Police Chief Ray Bernoties isn’t sure what he’ll do in retirement.
But he’s pretty sure it’ll be not “just a cop.”
He has some time to figure it out, officially looping in the Oak Bay Police Board on Jan. 25 of his plans for retirement this summer. With a supportive mayor and council, great community and fantastic department members, it’s a tough one to explain.
“I’m possibly leaving the greatest gig in the world but I just feel like it’s time. I feel like I’m ready to expand who I am,” he said. “It’s exciting, but terrifying.”
Bernoties worries he’s been a one-trick pony for 30-odd years.
By the end of school he knew what he wanted to do and went straight from school to being a police officer. That desire started at age nine or 10 when, as he puts in, a guy gave a talk in his London, Ontario classroom.
Bernoties, now 51, joined the RCMP in 1992 at the tender age of 21 during his second year of university (he finished his time at Western while a member). “When you’re going to retirement you’re happy you started as early as you did,” he said.
He was promoted to Oak Bay chief in 2020 after three and-a-half years as deputy and 25 years with the RCMP before that.
When he arrived to become deputy chief in May 2017, the Oak Bay resident had already represented the department as a rider in the annual Cops for Cancer Tour de Rock.
His 25 years with the RCMP started in Surrey. Then Bernoties worked his way through northern B.C., went to Ottawa, returned west and found his way to Oak Bay. His career includes time as chief of police for the Stl’atl’imx (Stat-la-mick) Tribal Police Service, which serves 10 Indigenous communities north of Pemberton. That’s where he met his wife, Carol.
When you do something for 30 years, you don’t see yourself as solely that one occupation, but it can become your identity, he said. One look at his resume confirmed it, Bernoties added with a laugh. “I plan on changing that.”
Those decades include some legacies, beyond appearing in T.V. episodes of To Serve and Protect during his Surrey days.
In Oak Bay, they include a police fleet moving toward electric vehicles, with one car near ready for patrol and couple of e-bikes on order.
Another of note, is that five years ago there were no female sergeants in the Oak Bay Police department. Now it sits at 50 per cent. The department tweaked the promotion system to remove barriers that shouldn’t exist, making all based on merit.
The municipal constable program is working really well and he hopes that’s also true for his more unorthodox interaction with the public.
“It was a little different and maybe a little risky … I would rather be out front as a small department rather than hide in the back,” Bernoties said.
He took to Twitter in his duties as a deputy and continued as a chief.
“What I tried to do (on social media) was humanize police at a time when I thought the public needed to see we are just people too,” he explained.
After years of mostly positive feedback, he saw enough negative feedback from dissenters to shift the department’s main Twitter account to a bare bones, business-like use of social media. But the personal insight into himself as a “bumbling dad” who is terrible at home repair continues on his personal feed.
And he’s a cop – who legitimately cares about people and the community.
“I do think that it’s worked,” he said.
He expects those conversations will continue beyond his impending retirement this summer. He even took to Twitter to announce the plan Jan. 26.
That’s as far as the plan goes. These days, being a guy mowing fairways at the golf course piques his interest, Bernoties said. But there’s time and his kids, Trevor, 13, and Dexter, 10, still need chauffeuring, at the very least.
And besides, Carol probably has some ideas.
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