Retired Westville/Stellarton Police Chief Don Hussher jokes that he spent a year in prison.
As a correctional officer.
“When I first left the military I landed a job in Fort Saskatchewan, AB, as a correctional officer. Seven years in the military, 44 years in policing and one year in prison — that always wakes them up,” he laughs.
Hussher has seen a lot of changes in policing in his career. He began his long and distinguished career in policing in Trenton in 1976. At that time, training at the Atlantic Police Academy was not a prerequisite to becoming a police officer, at least in Pictou County. But Hussher had seven years of training in the military — two years with the Black Watch, and four years with the Airborne Special Forces.
He had been involved with the 219 Army Cadets, New Glasgow, as commanding officer for 10 years but had to retire from there when he reached age 65. During that decade under Hussher’s command, the cadets won the Lord Strathcona Cup, which is for the top army cadet corps in the province, five times. In the four years he was commanding officer, they won it all four years. “That’s a record today.”
Hussher grew up in Westville for the first 13 years of his life, then moved to Pictou Landing Road, just outside of Trenton, with his mother in 1963. When he was just 17 he entered the military.
“I wanted to pursue policing.”
Then he came home and got a job as a dispatcher for the police department in Trenton — eight officers including the chief, he recalls. “They didn’t have the full complement to do a 12-hour rotation,” he recalls.
Then when a couple of officers left, he and another officer, Danny Walsh, were hired as police constables. That was when the evolution of Hussher trying to perfect community policing began.
At that time, he recalls the youth in Trenton being “out of control. There was a lot of youth-related crime, they had no respect for the police, no respect for their own community or business district. The businesses on Main Street were totally disgusted with what was happening — a lot of damage, windows broken, shoplifting. The youth were very defiant.”
He saw a grim future for a lot of youth who were accumulating extensive criminal records. “Back then when we did the beat patrol — Main Street and High Street — we wouldn’t get around the block without making one arrest.”
So Hussher and Walsh asked the youth for a meeting. “They were very anti-police — the community wasn’t doing a whole lot for them and the police were always picking on them.”
The result of that meeting was the formation of the Trenton Police Boys Club (girls were added later on). The business community and the churches came together. Christ the King Church provided a hall, the youth painted it, the business community added games and pool tables. “The youth got involved in different sports and citizenship and such. They had structure because they had their own executive and had to decide their own direction.”
It was a catalyst.
“That was the start of a turn in direction, turning the community around in the right direction and the youth began to have a respect for police.”
That group lasted for seven years and its formation remains one of Hussher’s career highlights. “It was a pleasure to see that happen, to see that transformation not only in the youth but in the whole community because the businesses did well, the community did well, the youth did well — they stopped accumulating these long criminal records and started having respect for the community.”
Hussher is proud to say many of the youth he mentored went on to leadership roles and successful careers. Years later, when Hussher successfully ran for a seat on town council in 2005, “a lot of the citizens I talked to remembered the Trenton Police Boys Club.”
When Hussher first began his policing career, he said drugs weren’t as prevalent as they are today. “Drugs are very prevalent today on the street, in the schools, and there are different types of drugs. Back then, we were leaving the hippie era. Marijuana seemed to be the thing and LSD was just making its roll into Nova Scotia.”
Today, an opiate crisis that has hit the U.S. is also being felt in Nova Scotia. “It’s the front end of the wave; it’s coming this way and is having a devastating effect.”
Hussher said it was in his early years as a police officer that he recognized that municipal police departments in the area did not have a concrete case management system to manage files. He started one while he was on the Trenton force. “I was hoping to get a computerized case management system, but it wasn’t available to me at the time. But through records documents I was able to establish a basic records management system in Trenton.”
After 14 years on the Trenton force, he left with the rank of sergeant and went to Westville as police chief. He was ready for the challenge.
“I like challenges. My upbringing in Westville and Pictou County did a lot for my character, but one of the things that really gave me an appetite for challenge was when I went in the military in the Black Watch and the Airborne Special Forces. That was almost like a magical time for me. It is an experience that, as far as I’m concerned, was second to none. It opened up my eyes on life and its challenges… So I welcomed the new challenge in Westville with open arms.”
He took up the new challenge with a recurring desire: expand on improving policing.
Hussher was chief in Westville for 30 years from the day he retired at the end of 2019. He started on Jan. 1, 1990.
Under his guidance, the Westville department took a community policing approach. He formed the Westville Citizens Crime Prevention Association and the First Westville Police Ventures which won awards for skills, drill, dress and deportment. He also brought the Trenton case management system to Westville. In 1992, the province mandated that police departments’ records management had to be automated. It was costly for small police departments to implement but Hussher saw an opportunity.
He got together with the Nova Scotia Community College and a staff member in the Town of Westville and designed a records management system for municipal police departments. That system passed the province’s audit and as a result, small towns like Wolfville, Middleton, New Glasgow, Lunenburg, Annapolis Royal, Stellarton and Trenton came onboard with that system. “That lasted right up until 2003 when we moved to the records management system that we all share today except for Halifax and Cape Breton.”
He said of the system he helped develop: “It was a turning point for small municipal police departments and standardized records management.”
In 1994, the towns of Westville and New Glasgow decided to share some services — including policing. Hussher became deputy chief in New Glasgow under Steve Kinnaird. “I have a lot of respect for Chief Steve Kinnaird,” Hussher lauded. “He’s the one that really laid down the ground work for community policing in Pictou County.”
Some eight years later in 2002, the policing arrangement between the two towns ended and Hussher returned to Westville as chief. In 2011, Stellarton put out proposals to share the police chief position, so Hussher took on that role as well. It was a natural progression, he notes, as he was already sharing some services with Stellarton. On Hussher’s retirement, both Stellarton and Westville have hired their own police chiefs: Stellarton has Mark Hobeck and Westville has Howie Dunbar.
Hussher is also proud of his time in Stellarton. “We made a lot of improvements: the case management system, the Westville/Stellarton Youth Corps, we share in the Live Scan finger printing system, policy, radio system, training and the Intoxilyzer — it’s a good cost sharing arrangement that I hope continues.”
Now retired, as of Jan. 1, 2020, Hussher says he’d like to stay busy. He is looking forward to spending some time on his dominate hobby: collecting movie and music memorabilia for his home theatre. “I wouldn’t call it a man cave, but I have an area in the house that the whole family enjoys,” he jokes. He has a lot of artifacts from theatres that include old movie posters, a jukebox and old vinyl — perfect for anyone who grew up in the 50s.
After 44 years in community policing, Hussher has hung up his hat, moved up the ranks and retired his badge as one of Pictou County’s top cops. Peace (officer) out.