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'Proven leadership': New chief sworn in at South Simcoe police

South Simcoe Police Service oversees Innisfil and Bradford; 'Both communities are in my heart and in my blood,' says John Van Dyke

John Van Dyke has officially become the fourth chief of police at the South Simcoe Police Service.

He was sworn in during a ceremony at Innisfil Town Hall on Thursday.

More than 100 invited guests and members of the South Simcoe Police Service joined the celebration, which was led by Staff Sgt. David Phillips and included remarks from several local dignitaries. 

The sound of the bagpipes signalled the arrival of senior command and dignitaries, as played by Pipe Major Peter Johnstone-Schulz. Local artist Anna Goldsmith then performed a powerful a capella version of O Canada.

After receiving blessings from Rabbi Zevi Kaplan and Pastor Steve Bradley, Justice Raymond Williams invited Van Dyke to take the oath of office. He was then presented with his new badge by Bradford West Gwillimbury/Innisfil Police Services Board chair Chris Gariepy.

Upon receiving a standing ovation, Van Dyke's family members looked on proudly.

"The chief’s role comes with great responsibilities and even higher expectations, but this is a challenge that I am prepared to take because of my love for our team," said Van Dyke. "I would be remiss if I did not take a moment to thank my predecessor, retired chief (Andrew) Fletcher.”

Van Dyke also thanked the countless other people who helped him on his journey to become the chief in his hometown, which included his family, mentors, the communities of Innisfil and Bradford, elected officials, and fellow members of the South Simcoe Police Service.

“Both communities are in my heart and in my blood,” he said.

Van Dyke and his family have deep roots in the community. His grandparents settled in Bradford's Holland Marsh after emigrating from the Netherlands in 1929. 

Born and raised in Bradford, Van Dyke’s career with the South Simcoe Police Service began on Jan. 20, 1989, as an auxiliary constable, then as a full-time constable that October. Van Dyke rose through the ranks as he has served the community as staff sergeant in 2006, inspector in 2016, and deputy chief in 2020.

“Chief Van Dyke has proven leadership abilities across all areas of the organization," said Gariepy. "He has supervised a variety of units within the service and John is also a graduate from the Rotman School of Management’s Police Leadership Program."

Van Dyke was named as acting chief upon Chief Fletcher’s retirement, which was shortly before tragedy struck on Oct. 11, 2022, that cost Constables Morgan Russell and Devon Northrup their lives while in the line of duty following an disturbance call at an Alcona home.

“I want to thank you, Chief Van Dyke, for really stepping up to the plate in the last few months," said Barrie-Innisfil MPP Andrea Khanjin. "It's been a trying time for our community and you're really there for everyone. I want to thank you for your years of service and really stepping up to the call of duty.”

Innisfil Mayor Lynn Dollin said Van Dyke has the town's full confidence "that he will continue to serve our communities with integrity, compassion and professionalism."

Bradford Mayor James Leduc echoed that sentiment.

“As someone born and raised in Bradford, who has witnessed our growth and transformation into a diverse and increasingly urbanized area, his perspective will be invaluable,” Leduc said.

“John Van Dyke was and still is South Simcoe through and through,” said South Simcoe Police Association (SSPA) president, Acting Staff Sgt. Leah Thomas.

Thomas explained that it's uncommon for an association president to speak at a police chief's swearing-in ceremony.

"The chief of police and the association president are usually sitting at opposite sides of the table, not just standing side-by-side," she said. "But here's the thing: when it comes to this chief and our members, it’s not just about sitting across the table when bargaining, it's about having a seat at the same table, period. And it was a seat that he offered willingly the day he became acting chief. This is huge. This speaks to his devotion, his commitment, and his character.”

Van Dyke says he's committed to using “analytics to inform our decision-making so we can deploy our resources to where they are needed the most” and to bias-free policing.

“We will treat all people equally with dignity and respect.," he added. "Serving as a police officer today means overcoming increasing challenges. Among them, the mental health of our citizens and the influx of guns into our communities are a real concern. Modern policing is about much more than simply investigating crime and making arrests, it is about service.

"Please know that we will continue to move forward and meet the challenges of modern policing together," Van Dyke said. "The future looks bright. On Monday, we began to roll out body-worn cameras service-wide. Shortly, we will be installing automated licence-plate readers with in-car video in our front-line patrol vehicles. We are in the process of streamlining paperwork to take some of those tasks away from our officers, and putting patrol hours back into our community.”  

When asked how residents of Innisfil and Bradford can assist him in his new role, and the South Simcoe Police Service in general, he said they need the support and trust of both communities.

“If we learned anything from losing Morgan Russell and Devon Northrup last year it is that we are all in this together,” Van Dyke said. “We need to support each other to be successful as an organization. I need your support; I welcome your feedback (and) your ideas.

"No chief of police can be successful without the support of his or her members.”

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Amber Green

About the Author: Amber Green

Amber is a freelance journalist with InnisfilToday. Dedicated to the craft of writing, she is a storyteller at heart who writes novels, poetry, and short stories. She lives in Innisfil.
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