Chief to leave a legacy

They are big shoes indeed.

I knew Jim Cessford wasn't going to be Delta's police chief forever, but last week's announcement that he'll be retiring early next year still caught me off guard.

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Cessford has been Delta's top cop since 1995, which makes him the longest-serving police chief in Canada. He's actually held that title for a few years now because I can remember joking with him a while back, acting confused over whether he was the longest serving or simply the oldest chief in the country.

The fact you can have some fun at his expense - and, don't worry, he gives as good as he gets in those kinds of exchanges - speaks volumes about his character and is one of the traits I'll remember most about his time leading the department.

Given policing is often no laughing matter, Cessford can also be deadly serious when the occasion calls for it. You could tell by the look on his face and the gravity in his voice that many cases, particularly those where a life had been lost, touched him deeply over the years. He often got personally involved, reaching out to victims' families, not in some sort of contrived PR gesture, but with a genuine sense of caring.

Cessford is exactly what you'd want a police officer, and a police chief, to be, combining a no nonsense law and order side with hefty doses of compassion, humility and humour. He's in a position of great authority, which he takes seriously, but at the same time he doesn't take himself too seriously.

The office of police chief carries with it a certain cachet, but Cessford is far from an ivory tower type of guy. He relates to anyone and everyone, treating each with the respect he'd want to be accorded. He has a knack of knowing, like any good officer, when to push and when to pull back.

I think it's a credit to Cessford that a department that serves 100,000 people still provides a very personal touch. Its no-call-too-small policy makes every resident feel they're important, that their voice has value and their concerns are respected. That's not an easy standard to sustain while policing in a major metropolitan area, but thanks to the chief 's leadership that small town approach has been maintained.

Twenty years as chief in one place is an eternity in police years, so we've been fortunate to have had Jim Cessford for such a long time. His fingerprints are all over this community and his impact will be felt long after he retires.

His successor has big shoes to fill.

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