October 1, 2020
“It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” – Harry S. Truman
Latin for Agile, “Agilis” defines the everyday Executive pursuing extraordinary goals. This month, we are honored to share the influential journey of Chief Constable Mark Neufeld, M.O.M., Mst (CANTAB), an Extra(ordinary) Executive we are privileged to address as our very own Chief of Police in Calgary, Alberta. Chief Neufeld opened his doors without reservation, welcoming us into his home-away-from-home. We took a photo of the plaque that hangs outside Chief Neufeld’s office door, noting the care and attention given to ensuring its pristine condition. Led by the values of respect, honesty, integrity, fairness, compassion, and courage, Chief Neufeld started sharing and we started writing. One hour turned to four as we spent the afternoon learning about his ambitious journey; and the leadership characteristics of perception and instinct that he very naturally developed along the way. With humility, he took us through his childhood, his upbringing, his role models, his struggles, and the decisions that keep him resilient in a career committed to serving and protecting humanity.
Chief Neufeld grew up in Ryley, Alberta, a small town of 500 people. “We had no stoplights in town, and the train went through every hour. I guess the good part about that was it was a wholesome upbringing with lots of great people. It was a very personal upbringing I think because you knew everybody in town. And as a result, you had relationships with everybody. I think just that degree of familiarity is what made growing up there very personal.” At a very young age, Chief Neufeld had a high degree of responsibility. His mother passed away when he was just months old and he was raised by his father. “My father owned a store so I had a lot of responsibility growing up in terms of helping my father out with the business. I was also quite involved in the community. Very involved in sports,” he recalls. “I experienced a normal childhood I suppose from that standpoint. I couldn’t get away with too much because my dad was always in the store, so he was quite accessible to people”, he laughs light-heartedly. “So, my teachers and others knew right where to find my dad if I was getting into mischief in the community.”
The youngest of three siblings, Chief Neufeld has two sisters. “Growing up with one parent was normal to me, unlike my sisters, who would have known my mom because they were older when she passed away. They would have had many more years with her. But for me, it was really all I knew.” He continues, “Ryley had its own school that went from kindergarten to Grade 12. In my class, there was about two dozen students. I started there in grade two and graduated with mostly the same kids,” he fondly recalls. “Families were pretty established in the area; many were farm families so there wasn’t too much movement.”
Chief Neufeld had several influencers at a young age, and throughout his upbringing. “In the early stages of my life, my influencers were primarily teachers and coaches. I had a baseball coach named Bruce who was a fantastic role model. He was such an encouraging mentor. Adolescence can be a tough time for kids and having positive role models like Bruce was really important.” He elaborates, “Bruce worked out of the province each summer and I remember he would send me handwritten letters of encouragement while he was away. Believe it or not, I have those letters to this day! I think it speaks to the power of those trusted individuals who are positive in your life; and things that might seem insignificant can be anything but. Writing offers encouragement in ways that are very personal. I have shared these letters with my children”, he notes.
Upon graduation from high school, Chief Neufeld went to work for the local municipality. Before long he was fortunate to receive a leadership opportunity as a foreman on a brushing crew (cutting trees). “They had enough trust in me to give me a leadership opportunity, perhaps before I had really earned it”, he remembers. “During that period, my boss, Carol, encouraged me to pursue a post-secondary education. I had had some interest in becoming a Fish & Wildlife officer and there was a good program in Lethbridge. I don’t know if it was fate, but her brother was enrolled in the law enforcement program at the Lethbridge College. Carol said, ‘her brother and a couple of his friends had rented the whole house in Lethbridge and they had an extra room – all I had to do was apply to the program and I had a place to stay. She was unbelievably supportive.” This moment changed Chief Neufeld’s path, as he took Carol’s advice and moved to Lethbridge. Living with three law enforcement students is what ultimately sparked his interest in policing. “This move sent me down roads I had not anticipated. When I think of influencers, I think of Carol; when I didn’t know what I wanted to do, she gave me opportunities to continue working while simultaneously pushing me to think about my future, and to consider going to school.”
A year later, Carol received a promotion and recommended Chief Neufeld to replace her as Director of Agriculture for the municipality. “Honestly, I’m not sure what she saw in 20-year old me that made her think I could perform in that role. I thought long and hard about the opportunity because I was enjoying college in Lethbridge. But I always knew I could return to school so I took a leap of faith and accepted the role.” Chief Neufeld proudly stayed in this role for five years, grateful to Carol, his co-workers, and his community who showed confidence in him and helped develop his leadership. “My employees and supervisors treated me really, really well. I learned so much from them. I recall being thankful for the trust people had shown in me and felt a strong responsibility to deliver on my responsibilities and commitments. Again, I think it helped that I had grown up in the community and had such strong relationships. Everyone would have known me from my earliest years.”
To continue his interest in law enforcement, Chief Neufeld began volunteering for the RCMP in Tofield. “These were the days before there were signs on roads in rural Alberta – and Google Maps wasn’t yet a thing!” he smiles. “Because of my role with the municipality, I knew the county like the back of my hand. There were RCMP officers posted to Tofield Detachment from other provinces who, understandably, had no familiarity with the area. So, I brought a lot of value because I knew almost everyone in the county and where everything was. I received a lot of support from the members there – Randy, Sheila, and Jerry. It was as a result of their encouragement and support that I decided to make application to the RCMP. I guess this cemented my interest in policing as a career.”
“The RCMP recruitment process was quite competitive at that time. I completed my application requirements and then waited some time for results. Thinking about influencers, the detachment commander (Sergeant Syd), had fully supported my application. When things were not progressing, he encouraged me to consider other options. I recall him telling me ‘not to be worried about the colour of the shirt I would be wearing’, but rather I should consider other options and focus on getting into a police service now. I could move around later if I choose to.” Chief Neufeld, a sponge for sage advice, decided to look more broadly.
While taking evening courses at Grant MacEwan College, Chief Neufeld became intrigued by a Vancouver Police Department recruitment. Ambitious, curious and free-spirited, Chief Neufeld chose to apply. “After writing the test in Edmonton with a good friend of mine, I headed to Vancouver a few times to participate in the recruitment process. I remember being down in Vancouver – a city I’d never been to before - thinking to myself, ‘I could never move down here.’, I came from a town of 500 people!’” he reminisces. “I took a Greyhound bus the first time; I left my bags in a locker at the bus depot to go look around. Unwittingly, I ended up walking through the Downtown Eastside where I kept thinking, ‘this is not for me!’” He decided to continue through the recruitment process as a learning opportunity for when the RCMP finally called. “Something changes though when you receive a call congratulating you on being successful; and I remember thinking that if I don’t accept this position, I could really regret this?” Chief Neufeld took the plunge, left the stability of his current role, and moved to Vancouver with his family. “This was a big move! I remember during training, we were told to look left and right and that, statistically, one in three candidates would not successfully complete basic training!” he laughs again light-heartedly. “I had left my home province, my job, and I had a child on the way. Not being successful was not an option for me! I did graduate with so many other great cops. I ended up being posted to the same Downtown East Side I had walked through all those months earlier – and loved every minute of it.”
Chief Neufeld felt very fortunate to have met so many great people in Vancouver. This included supervisors, trainers, and co-workers. “You’re somewhat vulnerable when you pack up, leave your home, take a risk and put everything on the line”, he admits. “The people were phenomenal though. I did not know a lot about policing when I began. My time as an Auxiliary Constable with the RCMP definitely helped. Fortunately for me, the people I worked with were patient and compassionate. I was allowed to make mistakes and learn in a fun and supportive environment.” Chief Neufeld was a member of the Vancouver Police Department for less than two years. Unfortunately, his father had become ill and there was a strong pull to return to Alberta to help out. “By the time we moved back to Alberta, we had grown accustomed to Vancouver and developed a circle of good friends. Though moving to the big city hadn’t been an easy adjustment, we were sad to leave Vancouver. I was fortunate to be able to join the Edmonton Police Service which prompted a move back to Edmonton.”
After repeating recruit training, Chief Neufeld was assigned Edmonton’s Downtown Division. “There were myriad social issues to contend with, but not to the same extent as downtown Vancouver. I loved front line police work and serving the community. I stayed in Downtown Division for ten years. I especially enjoyed the opportunity to ‘walk the beat’, which meant I was responsible for a small geographic area which I patrolled without the barrier of the car. I got to know everyone in the area – literally - and it was kind of like living in a small town. I enjoyed building relationships with the community and this was a reoccurring theme that was presenting for me. I was able to have personal relationships with the business owners, and the apartment owners, and even the people who were struggling and on the wrong side of the law.” Chief Neufeld developed these relationships by choice, feeling comfortable in this beat; knowing the support he had from the community in the area. “Treat people with respect; be open-minded; and help out where you can. It goes a long way. The investment you make in relationships generally pays off in spades.”
Ultimately, Chief Neufeld was promoted to sergeant, a goal achieved with pride and perseverance. “I wanted to expand my influence further and support good officers doing good work in communities.” He then moved to Internal Affairs, which is the Professional Standards unit today. “This was unexpected as I had been pursuing an assignment in undercover operations. I was nevertheless humbled to have been chosen for this important role”, he says. “Phil was my boss; and here is where I learned about the importance of management. Phil was a leader that understood systems and could turn ideas into reality. He was a stickler for doing things right and taking care of the details. He made me better...” Chief Neufeld indicated one of the highlights of his time in Internal Affairs was a ‘best and leading practices’ trip to Ontario, British Columbia, and California. “We were asked to visit a number of agencies and to bring back recommendations regarding best-practices that could be implemented by EPS. One of the things we came up with was the idea of an independent investigative agency for investigating police-involved incidents in Alberta. This ended up being the impetus for what would, some years later, become ASIRT (Alberta Serious Incident Response Team).”
When ASIRT was first launched in Alberta, Chief Neufeld successfully applied for a secondment to the province’s Justice & Solicitor General Ministry, becoming the first police officer to join and lead this team. “We started with a budget code and a business plan and, with that, we did everything from securing office space, equipment, people, a strategic plan, processes, you name it…” It was here that he met Clif, who became a close friend. “I felt incredibly fortunate to have been a part of what became a very cohesive team and to have had an opportunity to play a small part in the launch of this important venture”.
We continue to write, recognizing that we’re unveiling a theme…Chief Neufeld uses instinct, some faith, and his ambition to move outside of his comfort zone. Courageous curiosity!
Thereafter, Chief Neufeld rejoined the Edmonton Police Service and was placed in charge of Professional Standards Branch. “Had I not been selected to join this unit earlier in my career as a detective, I don’t think I would have been selected for the secondment to ASIRT. And if I had not gained the experiences I had in ASIRT, I don’t think I would have ended up back there as the Inspector. The ASIRT experience was very instrumental in me going back as the Inspector in charge of Professional Standards in Edmonton”, he concludes. “Realistically, my experiences with ASIRT were somewhat unique among police leaders in Alberta and even Canada. These experiences probably contributed being selected to my current role as Chief Constable here in Calgary.”
During his career, Chief Neufeld transferred positions often, generally every few years; which expanded his experience and skill sets while offering him opportunities for self-awareness and personal development. “There are so many interesting things to do in policing. And so much opportunity to do good for others and to have a positive impact on your community. This career has been extremely rewarding in that respect.” After Professional Standards, Chief Neufeld moved into a Duty Officer role. “As the most senior police officer on duty, you are ultimately responsible for everything; in essence, you are the ‘Chief’ at night and on weekends. This assignment reconnected me with the front line and operational policing, which I always enjoyed. This was really good for me.”
For a period of time following this role, Chief Neufeld returned to ASIRT as the Director of Investigations and filled in as Executive Director for a time. “It was nice to be asked back after having been involved in the original development of the unit. It was interesting to come back to be able to address things that needed a bit of fine tuning. I was able to hit the ground running in this assignment because I knew the people and I understood the business. The ASIRT team has always been, and continues to be, an amazing collection of people. This team does difficult work and they make it look easy. They do not receive the appreciation they deserve for the important contribution they make toward enhancing public confidence in Alberta’s police.”
Chief Neufeld returned to the Edmonton Police Service and was placed in charge of all Major and Serious Crimes. “This was an interesting role, with a very wide scope of crime falling within this unit. Once again, I had a great mentor and role model in Deputy Chief Brian Simpson. He was very experienced and supportive. We went through a lot of things during this time – the loss of our colleague who was killed on duty; the worst domestic mass murder in Edmonton’s history; a complicated, inter-provincial homicide investigation, and national security investigations. We lost an officer to suicide at this time as well, which was very hard on all of us.” Chief Neufeld becomes quiet as he recalls his interactions with the family. “I don’t think I appreciated the combined weight of all of those situations over time until after I transferred back to operations in Southwest Division. It becomes ‘your normal’. I found the move back to operations rejuvenating at that time. They say that sometimes a change is as good as a rest.”
Over the years, Chief Neufeld has been a strong promoter of mental health supports and police officer wellness. “Over my career, seeing really great officers struggle with trauma and PTSD has been difficult. It’s so important to be supportive of our officers and to reduce stigma around asking for help or receiving supports. Policing is a demanding career and leaders need to support their people in this critical area.” Chief Neufeld gets his strength from remaining grounded, and his family. He can’t say enough positive things about his partner, Lynn, and their four children. “It’s also of course been important for me to remain active and physically healthy to meet the demands of this job.”
In 2017, Chief Neufeld ventured to Camrose to challenge himself in a new role as Chief of Police. “If someone would have told me I would be leaving the Edmonton Police Service in 2017, I would never have believed it! Again, opportunities sometimes present themselves at what seem like inopportune moments. But these are the moments when taking a chance can result in great experiences”, he recalls. “Camrose is a smaller city in Central Alberta which has an excellent police service. I really enjoyed this role. I found myself close to the community and close to the outstanding women and men delivering the services to the community. I got to witness, first hand, how the challenges of policing were impacting the members. Getting close to the people – both the community and the police officers – is important to me.” He continues, “I work hard to remember people’s names and what is important to them because they really matter to me. I make time to answer emails, phone people back. I spend a lot of time in the workplace with people and my team. My family and I enjoyed every minute of our time in Camrose. We still have many friends in the community. ”
Chief Neufeld’s fate had our hometown calling for his leadership. “During my time with both EPS and ASIRT, I had worked with the Calgary Police Service. I always knew CPS was an industry leader and for me, it was an honour to join the service and to move to this beautiful city. The people in the service and community have been extremely welcoming to Lynn and I.” Chief Neufeld’s first year in Calgary has been a challenging one. “We have faced difficulties associated with the pandemic, the economy, and more recently, global (and local) protests and demonstrations following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Through it all, I have been inspired by the great people who comprise CPS. We have a strong team and strong leaders who are fully committed to working together to meet these challenges. I’m proud to be a member of CPS and I’m honored to work with the team to serve and support Calgarians.”
Chief Neufeld’s police career has offered him some unique opportunities over the years. He has traveled internationally to the United Kingdom and Spain to research cybercrime as part of the CACP Executive Global Studies program. “I have also traveled to Hong Kong on two occasions as part of the Canadian Police College’s International Executive Development of Policing Program. This program is delivered in partnership with the Hong Kong Police Force. On the first occasion, I was a candidate on the program. On the second occasion, I was fortunate to have been invited back to participate as a member of the faculty/instructional team.” He smiles as he takes us back with him in memory: “Most recently, I was able to attend Cambridge University and earn a Master’s Degree, living in the UK for twelve weeks during 2017-2018. This was one of the most amazing educational and cultural experiences of my life. I frequently reflect on some of these experiences with a deep sense of appreciation…”
“How do I measure success? I like to see people and organizations achieve big things. I love setting the vision for an organization, identifying priorities and outcomes – and then working with others to achieve results.”
Chief Neufeld personifies the values that have guided him through his journey. He honors the communities that continue to support the shared vision of an inclusive, safe world. And, he dedicates himself to the mission of ensuring public safety...in every step; in every thought; in every role.
The values listed on the plaque at the entrance of Chief Neufeld’s office echo in his leadership. The impact of these words and their significance show through his actions; they show through his expressions; and, they show through his quiet demeanour. As we listened, we allowed our own intuition to elaborate on these values...and we heard what Chief Neufeld didn’t need to say:
RESPECT: for his family; for his colleagues; for his friends; for his community; for the public; and, most importantly, for himself.
HONESTY: in being transparent; in being vulnerable; in being brave for displaying authenticity behind the uniform.
INTEGRITY: in holding pride in his principles; in holding strength in his morals; in holding humility in his actions and leadership.
FAIRNESS: in guiding a light for transparency; in guiding the need for equality; in guiding a voice toward inclusiveness for all communities.
COMPASSION: for those who are hurting; for those who are misguided; for those who are unable to share their stories…but need to in order to heal.
COURAGE: the instinct he uses in his decisions; the instinct that challenges his purpose; the instinct that is leading him to “serve and protect not only the community, but also those who commit themselves to serving and protecting the community.”
“Every job I’ve ever had was the best job I’ve ever had. I just want to help. If people are happy and contributing, then I’m doing a good job. It’s helpful to hear from people that things are really good. At a time when things are really challenging in policing and in our organization in particular, to go around and have people say ‘we’re doing okay’…that makes me feel good."
Chief Constable Mark Neufeld, M.O.M., Mst (CANTAB)
How do you measure success?
-Written by Reena Khullar Sharma, Founder & CEO