After a career of 41 years and postings across the country, Phil Barrett has decided on Digby for his golden years.
Barrett retired in early October after a life-long career in the RCMP, the last six as the head of the Digby detachment.
“I’ll be staying in Digby for the foreseeable future,” he told the Courier in an interview during his last week at work. “I like Digby. When you come down Church Street and see the Basin, the boats, I think it’s one of the nicest places in Nova Scotia. In the summer months I don’t think you can beat Digby.”
Barrett’s career, like all Mounties, started at the depot in Regina. Over the years he served in Ontario, British Columbia, the Yukon and Digby.
After his first stint here from 1980 to 1985 he was in New Minas and then Halifax for 15 years.
He spent 21 years in plain clothes investigating major crimes, commercial crimes, customs and excise and major projects.
“I’ve been very lucky,” says Barrett. “It’s been very interesting and diverse; I’ve worked with a lot of excellent members. I couldn’t have chosen a better career.”
He might have wondered when he was working in the Yukon in the early days of his career.
He spent four years in Mayo where he remembers seeing -53º C.
“It was the coldest I have ever been in my life.”
He says it is also where he learned to trust his judgement. He didn’t have anyone else’s to trust.
It was a four-member detail in Mayo but during Barrett’s four-year stay, there was never more than two officers. And with training and vacation days, he was often there by himself looking after a community of 800.
“When you got called to a disturbance at the bar at 2 a.m., you knew you were on your own,” says Barrett. “You learn how to communicate—and if you say it, you had to be able to back it up.”
At the other end of the spectrum he coordinated motorcades for visits to Halifax by Condaleezza Rice and for George Bush.
“I was working with the U.S. Secret Service, our top security officers, other government departments from the U.S. and Canada,” says Barrett. “There were a lot of players and everything had to be on time to the millisecond.”
Barrett says policing has changed “drastically” during his career.
“We didn’t have the Charter of Right and Freedoms for one thing,” he says. That came in 1984.
“We are more accountable for our decisions than we ever were in the past,” he says. “My police cars have an in-car camera in them, my cell block is 100 per cent covered with CCTV.
“It’s all very positive; now if allegations are made, the first thing I would do is go look at the video.”
Bystanders are making video too.
“It’s a double-edged sword,” says Barrett. “We get tips and information but it can also hinder our ability to stay ahead of the lawbreakers.”
Barret says the last six years in Digby have been very enjoyable.
“I’ve returned to the roots of my work: community-based policing, working with the public, being part of the community.”
Barrett says when he returned in 2006 he was asked to “bring the level of policing up.”
“I was aware of policing problems in the community and internal problems in the office,” he says. “We stressed community-based policing; being visibile, being approachable, becoming engaged in the community.”
Barrett for his part served breakfast at the elementary school every Tuesday for six years, walked a half-hour foot patrol in downtown Digby every week day, and tried to provide a “uniformed presence” at as many community events as possible.
He sat on the Black Advisory Board and met regularly with leaders of the Bear Rivers First Nations.
He made also made sure to get his members out of the office and support them in their work he says.
“It’s a job I love—the last six years have passed so quickly,” he said. “I wish I was here for another 20 years to be a part of all these things – the hopefully the next person will see them as a benefit to continue.”
Barrett is not sure who will replace him but says he wouldn’t be surprised to see a woman take his job.
He believes cuts in Ottawa could mean members in the capital will be looking for work and would get first crack at positions like his.
Barrett plans to stay busy this winter with some renovating in his laundry room.
“I’m not the greatest carpenter in the world but I can try to make my wife happy.”
And he has one more project.
“I’m going to try to sleep in. It’s going to be hard. I get up every morning at 5:15 and I’m going to have to break that habit. I don’t think I can.”