Donovan Fisher is the new chief of the Nelson Police Department. He took over this month after serving as an RCMP superintendent in Central Saskatchewan. Photo: Tyler Harper

Donovan Fisher is the new chief of the Nelson Police Department. He took over this month after serving as an RCMP superintendent in Central Saskatchewan. Photo: Tyler Harper

Meet new Nelson police chief Donovan Fisher

The former RCMP superintendent took the top municipal police job earlier this month

After 25 years working in what he describes as a dream job, Donovan Fisher needed a change.

The new chief of the Nelson Police Department took over earlier this month following the retirement of his predecessor Paul Burkart. Fisher’s previous job as an RCMP superintendent was to oversee 24 detachments in Central Saskatchewan as well as large-scale investigations into matters including organized crime and border security.

Fisher enjoyed the role, but the high-level management required meant he didn’t get the chance to work with communities and front-line officers.

“I wanted to get back to that level of policing, be more hands-on with that community contact, being involved in day-to-day operations,” he says. “I kind of missed that.”

That led him to Nelson, where he takes over the oldest municipal department in the province and its 18 members.

Burkart was an internal hire when he took over in 2016, and quickly moved to establish a beat cop downtown. As someone still getting used to the department, Fisher says he won’t be making any sweeping changes for the time being (the beat cop position, he added, will stay put and possibly be expanded on).

Instead, Fisher is currently focused on getting to know his new department. Change for the sake of making change, he said, isn’t his MO. Interviews with his staff are helping him assess what needs to be worked on.

“It’s a fairly experienced department,” he says. “I found the conversations with them very engaged and very open to new ideas, but they also had some things they wanted to bring to the table and asked me to look at so I think it’s going to be really good on that front.”

Fisher’s policing philosophy doesn’t appear to deviate far from Burkart’s leadership.

Like Burkart, Fisher plans to engage with local community services such as ANKORS as well as have a voice at committees such as the Nelson Fentanyl Task Force.

Law enforcement, he said, has to work with health experts and social services to be effective.

“I see my job as trying to put the police department out of business,” says Fisher. “If we don’t need the police that’s a great thing. Unfortunately I’m not sure we will ever get there, but I think we can work in that direction.”

Recent data shows the need for that type of collaboration.

In 2020, for example, 12 per cent of calls to the department were related to mental health concerns. The ongoing toxic drug supply crisis in B.C. also led to the deaths of six people in Nelson last year, the most since 2016.

The department has followed a nationwide trend that de-emphasizes possession charges in favour of trafficking investigations. The 39 drug violation incidents it reported in 2019 where the lowest reported in 10 years.

That approach to enforcement is unlikely to change under Fisher, who said he doesn’t believe police intervention can help people with problematic substance use. He prefers police focus on disrupting illegal supply chains and investigating fentanyl sources.

Beyond safety issues, Fisher believes aspects of personal use including rehabilitation are better left to social services.

“That’s where the focus needs to be on health and mental health and addictions services and counselling. Unfortunately when it gets to that stage the police are not really having any kind of impact on people in those situations.”

Engaging with the community is also Fisher’s approach to rethinking police relations with Canadians who are Black, Indigenous and people of colour, which returned to public discourse last year during Black Lives Matter protests.

The West Kootenay People for Racial Justice asked the Nelson Police Board to acknowledge systemic racism in the justice system — which it did — and implement a process allowing residents to submit confidential complaints of discrimination by the force.

It has also asked city council to consider reconfiguring the department to shift mental health calls away from police responsibilities.

Fisher said the conversation isn’t new to him. He worked with First Nations communities earlier in his career while serving at rural detachments, where he learned to keep an open mind and do more listening than talking.

He plans to continue that approach in Nelson.

“You have to recognize the cause of the problem and admit to it,” says Fisher. “But I think it’s very important that once we’ve reached that stage, we need to start working on that healing piece, we need to start working on where can we make things better.”

@tyler_harper |

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism during the pandemic? Make a donation here.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

School District 8 superintendent Christine Perkins says she’s leaving at the end of the school year. Photo: Tyler Harper
School District 8 superintendent Christine Perkins resigns

Perkins is leaving to take over another district

Selkirk College has received provincial funding to assist students. File photo
Selkirk College receives funding to assist students

Provincial funding is available to West Kootenay students

A mushroom grower plans to plan new mushrooms in fallen trees in the Kaslo Community Forest. File photo
Kaslo mushroom farmer given green light for unique project

Robin Mercy will plant mushrooms in the Kaslo Community Forest

Conservative leader Erin O’Toole holds a press conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, April 6, 2020. Top Tory leaders of past and present will speak with supporters today about what a conservative economic recovery from COVID-19 could look like. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
O’Toole to vote against Conservative MP’s private bill on ‘sex-selective abortion’

Erin O’Toole said he supports a woman’s right to choose and will personally vote against the private member’s bill

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A sign on a shop window indicates the store is closed in Ottawa, Monday March 23, 2020. The Canadian Federation of Independent Business is raising its estimate for the number of businesses that are considering the possibility of closing permanently. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Small business struggling amid COVID-19 pandemic looks for aid in Liberals’ budget

President Dan Kelly said it is crucial to maintain programs to help businesses to the other side of the pandemic

The National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians says that includes attempts to steal Canadian research on COVID-19 and vaccines, and sow misinformation. (AP Photo/Esteban Felix)
Intelligence committee warns China, Russia targeting Canadian COVID-19 research

Committee also found that the terrorist threat to Canada has shifted since its last such assessment

Part of the massive mess left behind in a Spallumcheen rental home owned by Wes Burden, whose tenants bolted from the property in the middle of the night. Burden is now facing a hefty cleaning and repair bill as a result. (Photo submitted)
Tenants disappear in the night leaving Okanagan home trashed with junk, feces

Spallumcheen rental rooms filled with junk, human and animal feces; landlord scared to rent again

Parliament Hill is viewed below a Canada flag in Gatineau, Quebec, Friday, Sept. 18, 2020. A new poll suggests most Canadians are feeling more grateful for what they have in 2020 as a result of COVID-19 pandemic.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions increased slightly in 2019: report

2019 report shows Canada emitted about one million tonnes more of these gases than the previous year

Dr. E. Kwok administers a COVID-19 vaccine to a recipient at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. to register people ages 40+ for COVID-19 vaccines in April

Appointments are currently being booked for people ages 66 and up

Interior Health improves access to mental health supports amid COVID-19 pandemic. (Stock)
Interior Health connects people to mental health resources amid COVID

310-MHSU line receives positive feedback in early months of rollout

A volunteer disinfects a historical Mohabat Khan mosque ahead of the upcoming Muslim fasting month of Ramadan, in Peshawar, Pakistan, Friday, April 9, 2021. (AP Photo/Muhammad Sajjad)
For Canadian Muslims, second pandemic Ramadan is a time of hope and sadness

Many members of the association are trying to find ways ‘to help people stay connected to one another’

Most Read