Policing for the People by the People: Leilani Kenny Serves and Protects
“I stumbled into policing, but I really grew into who I wanted to be,” Leilani Kenny remembers. She’s a Lac Seule First Nation member who lives in Kenora, two hours east of Winnipeg, working with the Treaty Three Police Service, which covers 23 communities and 20,000 people.
She started with the Anishinabek Police Service in 2003, where she worked in a fly-in community before being asked to apply to her current organization. After being a constable for about seven years, she moved into a position in the crime unit where she’s worked for over a decade, guiding, assisting and monitoring that officers are following policies, especially in domestic violence and sexual assaults.
After high school, Kenny went to Trent University and ended up in an abusive relationship. She was living within her partner’s community, estranged from her family and eventually she went home. She was working three jobs, going to counseling and starting to wonder what she was going to do with her life.
“I think that's how life happens. You're presented with opportunities all the time, and you gotta be ready for when they do show up.”
Her counsellor’s encouraged Kenny to consider a career of policing. “I didn't have a really good view of police because of all the racism,” she recalls. Later, another police officer encouraged her to apply and she did. Two weeks later, her policing career journey began. She moved to Kenora, got married, had two daughters and later divorced.
“The mental health aspect of policing is really tough, especially on me. It's really hard being a native woman in First Nations policing,” she explains. She attends counseling and encourages others to do so, too. To stay inspired, she attends community powwows and does jingle dress dancing.
Her advice for youth considering an opportunity like policing is to volunteer in their home community and take courses online. Her organization has ten summer students and they really try to integrate the youth into what they do. She knows it’s not for everyone, as much as she enjoys it herself.
“If you have that passion inside of you, you're going to find a way, you're going to find your path. But for people who are like, ‘I'm not sure’, it's kind of like maybe you shouldn't, because it is a really difficult, challenging job and you don't really get a lot of thank yous,” she advises.
Kenny wants aspiring officers to know how important education is in getting recruited. “You need a degree, you need schooling, you need all that education to even get considered now. Get your BA’s, go get your degrees and then if that's what you really want to do, then come into policing. Because you're going to be the one to make the difference,” she encourages.
Policing training has come a long way since Kenny first joined and did just 12 weeks of training. These days recruits are hired by their local police service and sent to Aurelia for the OPP program, to Ontario Police College for 12 weeks and 6 more weeks with Aurelia, for a total of five months. Her attitudes about policing have shifted too.
“We're such a beautiful people and we need that help. We need that guidance. We need that partnership, working with the communities because we're such an important part of helping the communities and that's what we do,” she shares.
“Policing is so short, we're working overtime, We're all getting burned out. We need the [people] and we don't have them. We need more Indigenous officers.”
She talks about her big dream: to be a little less alone in her industry, “I want to see more native women in policing, Our motto is policing for the people by the people,” she beams. Recruitment is a national problem policing but the good news is she’s raising a future recruit. Her youngest daughter would like to go into policing, while her oldest sees how much stress her mom is under so she wants something different for herself.
Ultimately, she sees policing as a calling. “If it's a calling, you're gonna take the good with the bad, you're gonna take the ugly because that's what you deal with on a daily basis. You're dealing with people's worst days in their lives, the worst things that ever happened to them and you have to have that empathy. You have to have that desire to help,” she explains.
While her past experiences with racism made her skeptical, she found happiness in her career guided by the principle of policing for the people by the people. Leilani Kenny stumbled into her career of policing and grew into who she wanted to be, and she hopes other Indigenous women do too.
Thanks to Alison Tedford Seaweed for authroing this article.
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