Heading to the RCMP detachment last week to meet the new Staff-Sergeant, I wasn’t sure what to expect. He’s the new chief of police in Revelstoke, and his name – Kurt Grabinsky – rings off the tongue if you say it in the over-the-top manner of a gruff, cigar-smoking police commander from a 1950s police flick.
So it was a nice surprise when he came out to greet me – average height and build, fast talking and definitely younger than expected.
Grabinsky, who’s in his early 40s, has been with the RCMP for 16 years. Growing up in Saskatoon, he was studying to become a lawyer. With a Bachelor or Arts in History and a Bachelor of Science in Physical Education, he was studying for his LSAT’s when he had one of those life-altering conversations.
He was working at a bike shop when a Saskatoon city police officer came in with his bicycle. “We sat and talked for 45 minutes and I changed my career path completely,” Grabinsky told me. “I went from working in a bike shop and going to university to applying to the RCMP and Saskatoon City Police.”
He was accepted to both, first working with the Saskatoon police and then moving to the RCMP. His career started in British Columbia, where he worked in Terrace, Telegraph Creek, Quadra Island and Tofino (where he worked with his predecessor, retired Revelstoke Staff-Sgt. Jacquie Olsen).
After over 11 years around B.C., he transferred to Ottawa where he spent four years in embassy patrol and customs and excise. Afterwards, he went to North Battleford, Saskatchewan.
Why become a police officer? “I wanted an active career where to help people was the goal. This is one of those areas I thought I could lend a hand,” Grabinsky said. “So far it has been an extremely rewarding career and I recommend it to everyone.”
In North Battleford, Grabinsky was the Sergeant and eventually the acting detachment commander. There, he worked in what has been referred to as the crime capital of Canada after topping Statistic Canada’s Crime Severity Index for three straight years. According to the Saskatoon Star-Phoenix, nearly one in three youth in North Battleford was charged with a crime in 2012 – three times the provincial average. It has the highest rate of non-violent crime and the third highest rate of violent crime in the country.
The statistics don’t reflect the nature of the community, which is the centre of a larger regional population.
“When you walk around the streets of North Battleford it’s a lovely pleasant community, which is quite a nice place to be,” Grabinsky said. “I would spend my lunch break running through the hood, the less desirable neighbourhood. It didn’t bother me because it’s a rare time that it’s a problem.”
Still, he said there were lots of break and enters, gang violence, shootings and even a murder. Policing there was a big challenge where they were always on the run and didn’t have enough to do community outreach, he said. “Working in North Battleford, it was a non-stop environment.”
One tactic they did deploy in North Battleford was a committee called the hub. It consisted of representatives from numerous stakeholdrs, including the RCMP, the fire department, hospital, and social sectors, who met to create a community action plan. “We met twice a week to discuss clients in the community that may need assistance,” he said. “I’m not going to make commitments to that today but I want to see if we can partner together.”
Grabinsky said he prefers to take a community approach to policing, rather than crime and enforcement.
Grabinsky started in Revelstoke the day after Thanksgiving and he was on his third day on the job when I met him. He said he was attracted to the post because he and his family wanted to return to British Columbia. The ski resort didn’t hurt either.
“B.C more reflects who we are as people and we already feel more active and happier here than we have in the last few years,” he said, adding that his family had been here as tourists before and found the community very friendly and welcoming.
From a policing perspective, he noted Revelstoke does have a drug element that needs to be addressed.
“As I’ve seen in North Battleford, where the drug element – some people find it recreational – but there’s an outlying effect that it has on thefts to get the money to buy drugs, the destruction of the social network of a community when the effects of those drugs destroy families,” he said. “We need to rely on the laws to enforce this. We need to rely on information we can get from people in the community to reduce drug use and abuse and keep people healthy and safe.”
Grabinsky has a wife and three children – two school aged and one younger. He said he likes skiing, snowboarding, cycling, boating and soccer. His number one priority is his family and his second is his work.
“My work is overwhelming right now because learning a new job and having to be here for that job is going to be my goal for the next year,” he said. “And then I’ll put myself out there.”