Constable Hank Neumiller has only been a CN Police peace officer for the past five years, but policing isn’t new to him. It’s something he’s been doing most of his adult life.
Constable Neumiller spent almost 25 years with the RCMP before beginning his journey into railway policing. In 2018, he also joined Operation Lifesaver (OL) as a member of our Saskatchewan committee. And what a difference he has made in a short time!
OL is happy to recognize Constable Neumiller’s contributions to rail safety by awarding him the 2021 individual Roger Cyr Award. Named after the founder of Operation Lifesaver Canada, the award is given to an OL partner or volunteer who goes above and beyond in promoting railway safety.
As part of Rail Safety Week 2022, OL spoke with Constable Neumiller about why he’s passionate about spreading the rail safety message. Here’s part of that conversation:
Before joining CN, how much attention did you pay to rail safety?
Well, I'm going to be very honest, I was aware of the railways because I did work with CN and CP early on in my career. But my focus as a member of the RCMP was not really aimed towards railway safety. A lot of what I know about rail safety has been since I changed jobs and had the opportunity to work with the people that actually operate the equipment, as well as Operation Lifesaver, and other peace officers within the railway policing field.
Why did you decide to get involved with OL?
When there's a railway incident, it affects us all. Whether you're the peace officer responding to it, or the locomotive engineer that operated the equipment, or a family member of the person involved, or just somebody who lives in that community. We need to be working together and be invested in our community and in the people around us and educate them to prevent incidents; because every incident with a train has the potential to be a fatal one—and one death is too many. And unfortunately, there are numerous incidents every year. We need to start changing the way we reach out to people, because there's always another generation of people coming along. And without the assistance of OL, I couldn't be as successful in changing people's way of thinking to improve rail safety in our communities.
How have you adapted your approach to rail safety education and outreach over time?
Just before COVID, I started noticing that where I police in Regina, it happens to be a neighbourhood that's difficult to police at the best of times. And that's not just CN—that's the local police as well. Where I do a lot of my enforcement for trespassing, there’s low-income housing on one side of our property, and baseball diamonds, walking paths, swimming pools, hockey rinks, and playgrounds on the other side. So, how do you go into a community that already has a difficult relationship with law enforcement and then start taking a zero-tolerance approach to trespassing? You're dealing with people that nine times out of 10 can't afford to buy a Big Mac, let alone pay a fine. And 90 per cent of the time, they don't realize they're doing something wrong because nobody's ever taken the time to educate them. Enforcement alone can't change people's behavior. You need to have an education format to reinforce what you're trying to push through.
How have you tried to incorporate that education component?
So, to address that kind of concern, I reached out to the Regina Alternative Measures Program, which is a privately operated restorative-justice program that deals primarily with criminal offences like shoplifting, theft, and that type of thing. We did a bunch of back and forth, and of course, COVID slowed down the process a little bit. But we've now got a good base program set up. We've actually rolled it out and had one candidate who has successfully completed the program.
What is the program?
It's a restorative-justice program to address railway trespassing with a strong educational component. Once you go through the initial intake, then we move on to rail safety education. Right now, it's kind of a case-by-case basis, as we're learning and growing. But typically, with youth, we aim to have a one-on-one format where we meet with the young person, and we go through a roughly 30-minute rail-safety education program and discussion. We really encourage their involvement to learn and ask questions. Once that education portion is complete, the participant has the opportunity to provide feedback on what they have learned.
What kind of difference do you hope that this program will make?
Well, first and foremost, I hope we can save lives. But each time you have contact with somebody, it gives you the opportunity to learn from them as much as to educate them. So, I'm hoping that as a community, we can grow and become safer by having more people understand rail safety. I'm hoping for more involvement from the community to make them “own” their own safety—because without educating people, they have no idea that what they're doing is dangerous.