Meet Operation Lifesaver's Advisory Committee: Read an interview with committee member Stephen Covey

This week we continue our series of blog posts featuring interviews with the members of the Operation Lifesaver Advisory Committee. You’ll get to know the dedicated people who work together to educate Canadians on rail safety, with the goal of preventing railway related injuries and deaths. These committee members work to develop Operation Lifesaver’s national direction, set goals and priorities and offer advice to National Director, Dan Di Tota, on how best to develop and implement Operation Lifesaver’s programs. This week’s interview is with Stephen Covey, Chief of Police for Canadian National Railway. The CN Police work in Canada and the U.S. to protect customers’ goods, prevent and investigate crime and make sure that all of CN’s facilities, equipment and property are safe. They are also involved in rail safety education initiatives. On how long he has been on the Advisory Committee and how it happened: “It’s been almost exactly a year. A year ago I became the Chief of CN Police. The former Chief had been a member of the committee so it was a natural step for me to take over and replace him.” On why he’s involved with the committee: “I want to be part of the committee and Operation Lifesaver because in my close to 30 years as a police officer, I've seen that education really is an important component in changing people’s attitudes and behaviours. I really believe this and I want to make sure that we all unite and do this in a strategic way, where we’re going to have the best bang for our buck.” On how he applied his previous experience to rail safety: “Before starting with CN Police, I spent more than 28 years with the RCMP. My work there had nothing to do with railway policing - I was mostly involved with organized crime and part of my mandate was drug enforcement. Even with the RCMP and drug enforcement I recognized the importance of education. Yes, there’s the enforcement side and it’s a great deterrent, but I realized that education could also be a major component in making changes in people’s attitudes and behaviours. When I joined the CN Police I applied this same mindset to rail safety. From my prospective, the main objective of the police, whether it be the CN Police or any other security force within the railway, is to change attitudes and behaviors of people toward rail safety.” On how his police force focuses on two of Operation Lifesaver’s “Three E’s”: “There are two ways to change attitudes and behaviors. The first is through enforcement and the second is through education. Police are the only people who can do the enforcement side. We can’t hire volunteers to enforce for us, but we can get volunteers to help us on the education side. For me, it’s logical for us to use the majority of our police resources for the enforcement side. However, because I believe that education is an effective tool, I am dedicating a portion of my police resources to get out and do the education and also to coordinate getting volunteers so that we can reach more and more people.” On how the committee settled on targeting rail safety education at students in Grades 7 and 8: “Operation Lifesaver's strategy to target students in Grades 7 and 8 came from my drug past. There’s a very effective drug education program that the RCMP uses that targets students in Grades 5 and 6 by giving presentations to them about making wise decisions when it comes to drugs. The reason that Grades 5 and 6 were picked was because focusing on one group ensures that you can cover everybody and at this age they’re just on the cusp of being exposed to drugs. It’s best to get them just before so that when they do become exposed to drugs in the next year or two, they’ll be well informed and able to make an educated decision. Operation Lifesaver targets Grades 7 and 8 because they will soon be getting their driver’s licence and their parents don’t supervise them as closely as younger students – they aren’t escorted to school and may walk off school grounds to get lunch. Much like with drug education, we’re getting them right at the age where they will be able to make an informed decision about railway safety.” On the difficulties of teaching rail safety to Grade 7 and 8 students and how Operation Lifesaver is rising to the challenge: “It’s a tough audience. They’re sort of the group that our police officers and volunteers have a tough time reaching out to. Colouring books won't work; a guy dressed up as a mascot won't work -  it takes an innovative set of materials to really grab their attention. I recently met with Dan Di Tota and we discussed some really great innovative ideas on how to reach out to these students. I’m really excited about what we’re going to be developing in 2011.” On how he knows that Operation Lifesaver works: “In 2010 I came on board at the beginning of the year and immediately we decided to take a strategic approach to education and enforcement. One of our strategies was to do a lot more enforcement and education with respect to grade crossings. We really encouraged our police officers to be out enforcing strategically at their high-risk grade crossings. The result was that in 2010 we saw the lowest number of grade crossing accidents on CN property in Canada, since they’ve been taking statistics. We probably can’t take all the credit for that, and we’ll see what happens in 2011, but I strongly feel there’s a correlation. We plan to take this same strategy and apply it to trespassing for 2011.” Be sure to check back next week for an interview with the Advisory Committee's second co-chair (you met his counterpart, Luc Bourdon, in March 16th's blog post), Mike Lowenger, Vice-President of Operations and Regulatory Affairs for The Railway Association of Canada.