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

(Phil McLachlan/Capital News)
Murder charge laid in February 2020 stabbing death of Smithers man

Michael Egenolf is charged with the second-degree murder of Brodie Cumiskey

Island Health chief medical officer Dr. Richard Stanwick receives a first dose of Pfizer vaccine, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
COVID-19: B.C. seniors aged 90+ can start to sign up for vaccination on March 8

Long-term care residents protected by shots already given

The village is hoping for a start date in early April with completion as soon as possible. (Granisle Village website photo/Houston Today)
Granisle’s curling rink to receive a facelift

Receives a $362,148 provincial grant

A huge milestone for Granisle to reach 50 years, said Mayor. (Village of Granisle photo/Lakes District News)
Granisle’s 50 years anniversary celebration postponed

The celebrations are now set to be held in 2022

Topley is part of the 10 projects funded in the north. (Laura Blackwell photo/Houston Today)
Topley to receive economic funding

Part of province’s $20.7 million Climate Adaptation Program

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry updates B.C. on the COVID-19 situation. (B.C. government)
Dr. Bonnie Henry predicts a ‘post-pandemic world’ for B.C. this summer

‘Extending this second dose provides very high real-world protection to more people, sooner’

Malawian police guard AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines after the shipment arrived in Lilongwe, Malawi, Friday March 5, 2021. Canada is expecting its first shipments of AstraZeneca vaccine next week. (Associated Press/Thoko Chikondi)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 cases climb to 634 Friday, four more deaths

Currently 255 people in hospital, 66 in intensive care

A crashed helicopter is seen near Mt. Gardner on Bowen Island on Friday March 5, 2021. Two people were taken to hospital in serious but stable condition after the crash. (Irene Paulus/contributed)
2 people in serious condition after helicopter goes down on Bowen Island

Unclear how many passengers aboard and unclear where the helicopter was going

Surrey Pretrial in Newton. (Photo: Tom Zytaruk)
B.C. transgender inmate to get human rights hearing after being held in mostly male jail

B.C. Human Rights Tribunal member Amber Prince on March 3 dismissed the pretrial’s application to have Makayla Sandve’s complaint dismissed

Supporters rally outside court as Pastor James Coates of GraceLife Church is in court to appeal bail conditions, after he was arrested for holding day services in violation of COVID-19 rules, in Edmonton, Alta., on Thursday March 4, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
‘Law remains valid:’ Pastor accused of violating health orders to remain in jail

The Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms is representing the pastor

The Netflix logo on an iPhone. B.C. delayed imposing sales tax on digital services and sweetened carbonated beverages as part of its response to COVID-19. Those taxes take effect April 1, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, Matt Rourke
B.C. applies 7% sales tax on streaming, vaping, sweet drinks April 1

Measures from 2020 budget were delayed due to COVID-19

Chief Don Tom of the Tsartlip First Nation was outraged after Green MLA Adam Olsen revealed on social media that the community had been experiencing a COVID-19 outbreak – a fact the First Nation had chosen to keep private to avoid racist backlash as experienced by the Cowichan Tribes when an outbreak was declared there in January. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. First Nation ‘outraged’ after Green MLA reveals COVID-19 outbreak

Tsartlip First Nation chief shares concerns about racist backlash, MLA apologizes

A lawyer wears a face mask and gloves to curb the spread of COVID-19 while waiting to enter B.C. Supreme Court, in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, Aug. 28, 2020. British Columbia’s highest court has sided with the land owner in a dispute over public access to public land. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. high court finds in favour of large landowner in fight over access to pair of lakes

The Nicola Valley Fish and Game Club launched legal action after the cattle company blocked road and trail access

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau holds a press conference in Ottawa Friday, March 5, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Trudeau holds firm on premiers’ health-care funding demands, COVID-19 aid comes first

Premiers argue that the current amount doesn’t keep pace with yearly cost increases of about five per cent

Most Read