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Retiring police officer talks racism

After 28 years with DRPS, Emmy Iheme is calling it a career. Retiring as a staff sergeant, he also worked with the Eastview Boys & Girls Club, and many other local organizations. (Photo by Randy Nickerson)

By Chris Jones/The Oshawa Express

Long time Durham Region police officer Emmy Iheme is retiring after 28 years on the force.

Known for his infectious smile, Iheme has been a positive influence in the community. He has worked with the Ontario Parasport Games, Eastview Boys & Girls Club and many other local organizations.

The staff sergeant recently sat down with The Oshawa Express to share his thoughts on the world and his career.

Iheme was born in Nigeria, and immigrated to Canada in 1985 with the help and support of the Tagwerker family before joining the Durham Region Police Service (DRPS) in 1992.

“In mid to late 1991, I had applied to the OPP, Peel and Niagara police, even though I lived in Durham at the time. I was invited to a community event in Pickering and during the event I met then Constable Scott Burns of Durham Regional Police. After spending a couple of days with Scott, I was so impressed by his attitude and personality that I felt if this is what all DRPS officers are like, I would be happy to work there,” he says.

So, he applied and his career with the DRPS began, where he enjoyed serving the residents of Durham.

“Getting the opportunity to be the co-chair of the 2019 Ontario Parasport Games-Durham Region and welcoming about 500 athletes and their coaches and family and working with amazing community volunteers – that had a huge impact,” he says.

He also appreciates how the role of executive officer for DRPS gave him the opportunity to connect with community leaders and enhance the relationship between DRPS and the community.

Iheme’s work with the major crimes unit was also important to him, he says.

“I was able to support voiceless victims, especially our vulnerable citizens,” he explains.

It wasn’t just his work as a police officer which was important to him, however.

“Early on in my career, I connected to my community in any way that I could. I was committed to volunteering with various community programs,” he explains.

Iheme has been a director at Big Brothers Big Sisters of Oshawa and Clarington, has volunteered with the Eastview Boys and Girls Club, the DRPS toy and food drive, coached soccer, was a volunteer with St. John Ambulance, and was on the board of directors for e-Camp Mentoring group of Durham.

“Even though I was not a strong ice skater, I also volunteered as a trainer on some hockey teams,” he says.

He’s also joined the Oshawa Rotary Club, and was then “lucky enough” to be asked to co-chair the 2019 Ontario Parasport Games – Durham Region.

As tensions have risen between citizens and police in the United States due to the death of George Floyd, a black man, at the hands of a police officer, Iheme says he has felt angry since watching the video of his death.

“I watched the video footage of the murder of Mr. George Floyd and the anger and disgust I feel is something I have never felt before,” he says. “I just cannot imagine how a person can commit such an act on an unarmed black man. It is the most horrifying thing I have ever seen.”

After almost 29 years as a police officer, Iheme says he has seen “a lot of terrible things” and has worked with many different officers of different races and creeds.

He says he can’t imagine bearing witness to “such a horrific act.”

“I can assure you that the majority of the officers I know and have worked with are equally disgusted and extremely upset after viewing the murderous video footage,” he says.

Iheme says every good police officer has “denounced the murder of an unarmed black man.” He hopes to be able to “root out” all “bad police officers.”

“Bad police officers destroyed all the great work done by every good police officer,” he says. “I do hope that all the officers in the murder of George Floyd get convicted and sentenced to receive the judgement they deserve.”

To those who Iheme says are committing “civil disobedience, rioting and looting,” during protests in the United States and Canada, Iheme says he is disappointed.

“It is very sad and extremely disappointing to see people commit these acts when good citizens are having a peaceful protest against injustice and the murder of Mr. George Floyd and many other citizens police swore an oath to protect,” he says. “These acts of violence and looting take away from everything the protests intend to highlight.”

He says the issues surrounding racism around the world are not just an issue belonging to black people.

“It is everyone’s problem, and the solution is everyone’s responsibility. We all have to work together to solve it by getting rid of racism, inequalities and injustice,” he says.

Iheme says the DRPS is committed to supporting change, and pursuing equality.

“[DRPS has] stood together with our black community to speak out against racism. It is imperative to communicate with the representatives of all community leaders and build stronger alliances, seek solutions and implement change which is long overdue. These changes need to start now,” says Iheme.

However, while he believes the DRPS is committed to change, and supports the black community, he acknowledges there have been times “we have failed in the past.”

“I expect a real commitment to continuously improve our training, education, conduct, accountability practices, listen to the collective voices of the back citizens of Durham Region and work in partnership,” he says.

Iheme says the DRPS “must acknowledge” the pain felt by black citizens, and pledge to do their part to fight racism and deliver bias-free policing.

“As I move into retirement I will continue to be involved with the DRPS in its efforts to reconcile with the black community and continue to build on the changes we have committed to make,” he says.