By Kara Boda | June 06, 2013
On a sunny afternoon 15 years ago, Devon Clunis, then a young police officer in Winnipeg, Manitoba, was called to an accident scene where a drunk driver had hit and killed two little girls.
As Clunis watched the other officers deal with the driver, the man’s selfishness made a deep impression. “All he cared about was himself,” remembered Clunis, Winnipeg’s police chief of eight months. “The man didn’t care that he had ended two lives and changed the future of the girls’ families forever.”
Clunis went home that evening to two little girls of his own, and that night, he woke up crying. “I wanted to do something for the families,” he said, “but I felt so frustrated and helpless.”
He and his wife, Pearlene, met with a pastor, who helped him work through his grief. The pastor told Clunis: “You just have to give it to God.” Over the course of his career, he has relied on that advice.
“If I didn’t have my faith, I don’t think I would have survived police work,” Clunis said. “In the many difficult situations I’ve had to deal with since then, I’ve done what I can do, and then trusted God to do the rest.”
Having grown up in Jamaica, in a home with no electricity or running water, becoming the police chief of Winnipeg is the last thing Clunis ever expected. Clunis was raised by his grandparents, whose Christian example caused him to accept Christ at a very young age.
When he was 11 years old, Clunis left his grandparents and everything he knew to move to Winnipeg to live with his mother. But even after he grew up and served as a police officer for 25 years, Clunis didn’t expect to head up the force. Just as he was about to retire, he sensed that God had other plans.
“I was on vacation in Florida at the time, and I was expecting to retire and do something else,” Clunis said. “But I felt a passion for Winnipeg and knew there was work for me to do here. And I believe God played a part in that.” When the opportunity arose a short while later, he applied to become chief.
Today, the prospect of a peaceful retirement from the force has been replaced by 14-hour work days and the task of leading the police force in a city that tops Canada’s violent crime index.
The chief, 49, has his work cut out for him, and he’s living out his faith in Christ by serving the city.
“Whether I’m in or out of uniform, I make every decision as if Jesus is standing beside me. He is the foundation of who I am and why I treat people the way I do.”
From patrolling downtown to dealing with conflict in the workplace, the police chief treats people with dignity and respect.
And he’s calling Winnipeg’s citizens and Christians to do the same, though not without controversy.
The new chief was criticized heavily by secular media in October 2012, after a published interview with ChristianWeek magazine included his call for residents to pray and his belief that prayer would help lower crime levels in Winnipeg. One newspaper columnist even went so far as to suggest the chief should resign.
“I was shocked by the reaction,” Clunis said. “I was simply asking people to do something good for our fellow citizens.”
He responded to the criticism by noting that prayer is always partnered with action.
“I’m calling people to prayer because it takes your mind to a different place,” he said. “You can’t pray without coming to the realization that there’s something you can do to change the situation. Prayer changes mindsets and environments—it’s a powerful thing.”
In the midst of the media storm, Clunis received a letter from Franklin Graham affirming his leadership. “I know that your suggestion that people pray is not a popular statement in today’s world,” Franklin wrote, “but it is a true statement that could be said about any city.”
The police chief was surprised by the letter. “I was pleased to hear from him,” he said. “The legacy of Billy Graham commands ultimate respect.”
Clunis has a big vision for Winnipeg.
“I want to see a culture of safety in our city, which today is described as the murder and crime capital of Canada,” he said. “It’s not just about what I can do or what the police force can do. It’s about what all of us can accomplish together.”
Clunis encouraged Christians everywhere to translate their faith into action.
“Look at your neighborhood and do something to be a light to that community,” he said. “Let your faith make a real, tangible difference.”
Volunteering in schools, cleaning up litter, and mentoring underprivileged children are just a few examples that Clunis offered to communicate Christ’s love in a practical way.
“Live your life on purpose,” he urged, “and great things will happen.” D 2013 BGEA