After years as the face of the Abbotsford Police Department, Const. Ian MacDonald is moving out of the spotlight. (Tyler Olsen/Abbotsford News)

After years as the face of the Abbotsford Police Department, Const. Ian MacDonald is moving out of the spotlight. (Tyler Olsen/Abbotsford News)

Behind the news releases: Police media officer reflects on 8-year stint

MacDonald was the face of the department during times of both trauma and cheer

Abbotsford Police Const. Ian MacDonald was just a couple of weeks into his new role as the department’s public information officer (PIO) in May 2009 when he walked into the office to start his shift and learned there had been a double murder overnight.

Two teen boys, Dilshir Gill and Joseph Randay – both Grade 12 students at W. J. Mouat Secondary – had been shot after having been abducted from a park at gunpoint as their friends watched in horror.

News reporters had begun gathering on the sidewalk across the street from the high school, and it was MacDonald’s role to fill them in on the investigation so far.

He arrived at the location, stepped before the TV cameras and provided some details. Then, it was time for questions.

MacDonald spotted a veteran Vancouver newspaper crime reporter in the crowd.

“I’m not taking the first question from her,” he thought.

He kept looking and came across a TV reporter who was smiling at him. MacDonald decided to start with her.

“Don’t you think if the Abbotsford Police had done a better job investigating the abduction of these two young men, they might be alive right now?” the reporter asked.

To this day, MacDonald doesn’t recall how he responded, but he is grateful for one thing.

“Fortunately it was one of those waist-up (camera) shots, so you didn’t see my knees crash together,” he says.

MacDonald went on to spend the next eight years as the face of the Abbotsford Police Department (APD) in times of both trauma and cheer.

His tenure ended in December – the new PIO is Sgt. Judy Bird – and he is now working in patrol, mainly doing desk work as he continues to physically recover from the effects of having been T-boned in a car in 2011 and then struck three times as a pedestrian – in one instance being thrown 21 feet.

But he says his days as PIO have been the best of his 20-year policing career.

He went into the field after an eight-year stint as the director of employee and public relations for a large restaurant and food service company.

One of their accounts was with the Vancouver Police Department and, through his contact with them, he was often asked whether he had ever thought about policing.

His restaurant career came to an end in 1998, and MacDonald, then 31, decided that was precisely what he wanted to do.

“I was coming out of a profession where I was making lots of money, but I didn’t feel like I was earning it … I didn’t feel like I was actually contributing anything to society or to humankind.”

MacDonald was hired by the APD in April 1998, completed his training, and then worked in patrol, followed by a period as a trainer for a new records management system known as PRIME.

Then-PIO Sgt. Casey Vinet began pestering MacDonald to apply for the PIO position when Vinet’s stint neared its end, but MacDonald initially had no interest – that is, until he was told that Chief Bob Rich wanted him to do it.

MacDonald has great respect for his boss, and that’s all he needed to hear. But he wasn’t sure he was the right person for the job.

“I candidly said, ‘Listen, I have no training. I tend to talk. Public speaking isn’t an issue, but public shutting up is an issue for me,’ ” he said.

MacDonald had some training from Vinet, but said he mainly wanted to “wing it” and find his own approach – and that was to connect with people, even through the most challenging of circumstances, whether it was the double stabbing at Abbotsford Senior Secondary that resulted in the death of 13-year-old Letisha Reimer in 2016 or the horrendous line-of-duty death of one of APD’s own, Const. John Davidson, last November.

He said he always tried to keep in mind one thing.

“You’re either going to try to convey, ‘Look, this is a bad thing but we’ve got it’ or ‘We don’t know what the hell is happening; run for your lives.’ … I always approach things form the standpoint of, ‘Of course, we’re going to deal with it. That’s what we’re here for and that’s what we do.’”

The job also had its light moments, and MacDonald laughs when he recalls stories such as the woman who was trapped in her house by a goat or the young men who went through a car wash in a shopping cart.

He said he most enjoyed the APD’s unique approach to public awareness and education. This included videos that addressed issues such as distracted driving and the 2012 Christmas card in which Rich dressed up as Santa wearing tactical gear and carrying an assault rifle in an attempt to encourage gangsters and other criminals to turn their lives around.

MacDonald said that although he no longer has to constantly monitor police activities and be prepared to speak on camera at a moment’s notice, he does miss being PIO.

“For me, this was the coolest job,” he said.

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

Just Posted

Protesters in support of farmers against the Indian government's recent agriculture bills took a drive through Penticton before standing in protest outside the Cherry Lane Shopping Centre on Dec. 5. (Brennan Phillips - Western News)
Rally in support of India’s farmers travels through Penticton

Around 30 protesters participated in the rally

Two Canadian petitions are asking to have elected officials removed from office. (Pixabay.com)
COLUMN: Petitions show loss of faith in democratic process

Online petitions from third-party sources have taken aim at elected officials in Canada

Summerland’s cenotaph was originally installed in front of the high school. The old school was located close to the corner of Rosedale Avenue and Jubilee Road. (Photo courtesy of the Summerland Museum)
Cenotaph and parks in Summerland honour fallen soldiers

Community memorials pay tribute to those who were killed in military service

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
81 new cases of COVID-19 detected in Interior Health Friday

One additional staff member at Kelowna long-term care home tests positive, no new deaths

A snow moon rises over Mt. Cheam in Chilliwack on Feb. 8, 2020. Friday, Dec. 11, 2020 is Mountain Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of Dec. 6 to 12

Mountain Day, Dewey Decimal System Day and Lard Day are all coming up this week

A laboratory technician holds a dose of a COVID-19 novel coronavirus vaccine candidate that's ready for trial on monkeys at the National Primate Research Center of Thailand. (Mladen Antonov | AFP)
WEB POLL: Will you take a vaccine for COVID-19?

Doses are expected to arrive in the new year

Travis Hirlaka, Vernon
PHOTOS: Sunrise paints Okanagan skies

Residents in the Okanagan captured stunning shots of a colourful start to Saturday

Robert Riley Saunders. (File)
First Nations Leadership Council demands justice for victims of B.C. social worker

Union of BC Indian Chiefs calls actions of Robert Saunders ‘nothing short of complete depravity’

(City of West Kelowna)
Large housing development in Central Okanagan back on the table

Council considering rezoning to accommodate 184 housing units, project hopes for ~933 by completion

Staff and students at Vernon’s Fulton Secondary School were evacuated due to an electrical short that sent one person to hospital Friday, Dec. 4, 2020. (Kerry Hutter photo)
Vernon high school evacuated, one person injured by electrical short

Incident at Clarence Fulton Secondary forced brief evacuation Friday afternoon

Chinook salmon spawning in the Fraser River near Tete Jeune Cache. ((Shane Kalyn photo, property of the Upper Fraser Fisheries Conservation Alliance)
North-Okanagan Shuswap MP petitions government to reform salmon management

Mel Arnold tables petition to allow more angler access to non-threatened Fraser River chinook salmon

Shuswap Cider Company has applied for a licence that would accommodate a cider manufacturing facility, a tasting room and patio/lounge area at Westgate Market in Salmon Arm. (File photo)
Cider manufacturing facilty, tasting room and patio proposed for Salmon Arm

Council asked to raise a virtual glass to a licence for a cidery and amenities in Westgate Mall

It was an opening day filled with blue skies, sun and COVID-19 protocols at Vernon’s SilverStar Mountain Resort Friday, Dec. 4, 2020. (Brendan Shykora - Morning Star)
VIDEO: Passholders enjoy sunny opening day at Silver Star Mountain

Resort staff say parking reservations, COVID-19 protocols went smoothly Friday, Dec. 4

Most Read