By Jensen, Randy on September 1, 2020.
Shahin Mehdizadeh was formally sworn in as Lethbridge’s newest Chief of Police with a special change-of-command ceremony held at Nikka Yuko Japanese Garden on Monday.
Under sunny skies and with the breathtaking backdrop of the garden, Mehdizadeh accepted his commission by taking an oath in front of Provincial Court Justice Sylvia Oishi to serve and protect, before being presented with his newly-minted Lethbridge Police Service badge from Police Commission chair Simon Griffiths.
Mehdizadeh then accepted a ceremonial passing of the LPS flag from outgoing interim Chief Scott Woods, who returns to his role as deputy chief. Mehdizadeh, Woods and Griffiths also signed a ceremonial scroll acknowledging the formal change of command which would be placed in the Galt Museum archives.
Mehdizadeh was also given another special honour: a Blackfoot name meaning “Wolf Butte.”
The Wolf, explained Elder Morris Little Wolf who prayed to the Creator to come up with the name, is considered the Father of the Blackfoot people, and their first teacher. “Butte” was a high place where the Chief would look out from to protect his people. Mehdizadeh was also given a ceremonial blanket by Elders Little Wolf and Harley Crowshoe, and was called “Father of the City” in his new role.
Mehdizadeh said the honour was unexpected and very humbling.
“It was a beautiful ceremony,” he said, speaking about the entire change of command ritual.
“It was the first time in the history of this police force we had a change of command (ceremony), and I am quite honoured to have that opportunity to be that first-timer. Obviously, it was icing on the cake when you had the Elders put the blanket on me, and that was an absolute honour for me.”
Mehdizadeh takes command at a pivotal moment for the Lethbridge Police Service with broader social strife around the issue of racial inequality, and the role of police, still roiling across the continent. In the past month revelations that two LPS officers unlawfully surveilled MLA Shannon Phillips when she was Minister of Environment, and the recent suspension without pay of a constable who was charged with assaulting a prisoner in the LPS holding area, have also caused localized issues and divisions within the service itself.
Mehdizadeh acknowledged these challenges in his comments to the media following the change-of-command ceremony.
“Diversity takes many different forms,” Mehdizadeh said. “Obviously our background, where we come from, family, ethnicity, is one thing, but there are also many forms of diversity. The vision forward is celebrating diversity, not just tolerating it.”
He talked about engaging with the community and using that diversity the city has as a strength. He also said policing is always “under the microscope” in any community, and police officers know they are held to a higher standard than most.
“Our challenge is to always do the best job we can to serve the community,” he explained. “To my understanding and knowledge, there are no perfect police forces in this country. At times the ball is dropped. The key is to look at what event happened, and how we can actually correct that and move forward. I can’t talk about the past experiences. I can’t promise there won’t be mistakes or bad things happening in the future, but when they do happen it is critical to be accountable and do the responsible thing to make sure we get ahead of that, and do what we need to do so these events don’t reoccur in the future.”
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