Saskatoon's 'Indian Ernie' on lessons learned from a life in law enforcement
He patrolled Saskatoon's west end for 26 years, but no one ever called police officer Ernie Louttit "Constable." He was always 'Indian Ernie.'
Louttit, born in Ontario to the Missanabie Cree Band in 1961, says seeing a First Nations police officer in Saskatoon was a novelty when he began his career in 1987 - only the third First Nations officer ever to join the Saskatoon Police Service. Louttit says the name is like a badge. "That's how everybody came to know me."
Indian Ernie retired from the police service in 2013, but the name stuck, and so did his passion for leadership and policing. When he left his patrolling career, Louttit considered becoming a police administrator, but he just couldn't picture himself as a "desk guy." Instead, he became an author.
Louttit's first book, Indian Ernie: Perspectives on Policing and Leadership, was published in 2013, and in 2015 he followed up with More Indian Ernie: Insights from the Streets. He's at work on a third book and he's become an in-demand and influential speaker, addressing standing-room-only crowds at Saskatchewan Polytechnic, Saskatoon Campus - including students from the Aboriginal Policing Preparation certificate program in the School of Human Services and Community Safety.
Louttit says he became a police officer to catch bad guys, but early in his career he had an encounter that made him reconsider his approach. "I was bringing in one arrest and he just looked so hateful but so beaten," Louttit says. "I realized I was creating a whole bunch of people who hated me as a person and hated what I represented as a police officer."
Instead of lecturing the people he arrested, Louttit began to listen more than he spoke. He learned quickly that empathy had more power to change behaviour than aggression. Louttit says his shift in attitude helped him to build relationships in the community. Even as a retired constable, he's still approached by people he encountered in the past who remember the respectful way he spoke to them.
When Louttit spoke to people he arrested, he says he hoped to plant a seed—an idea that would linger and spark a new way of thinking. When he addresses aspiring police officers at Sask Polytechnic, he hopes to plant a seed with them, too. "I wanted to get the idea across that everyone, regardless of their circumstances, has a story," Louttit says. "Empathy and a love of community are the best tools you will have on your duty belt."
Ernie Louttit’s book Indian Ernie: Perspectives on Policing and Leadership has received a number of accolades including the Saskatchewan Book Award in 2015.