Chatham-Kent's first police chief passes away

Members of Chatham-Kent's first responder community are mourning the loss of former chief John Kopinak who passed away Tuesday after a battle with cancer.

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Members of Chatham-Kent’s first responder community are mourning the loss of former chief John Kopinak who passed away Tuesday after a battle with cancer.

Kopinak became Chatham-Kent’s first chief in 1998 after a 30-year career that started with the Port Colborne Police in 1968. Later, he served in an executive capacity with Niagara Regional Police, the Provincial Solicitor General’s office and the Canadian Police College. He was also the Deputy police chief for CP Rail.

Carl Herder, who began with the Chatham Police Service in 1974, was appointed chief when Kopinak retired.

“You got a different perspective,” Herder told The Chatham Daily News about working with Kopinak.

“He brought new ideas to the way we did things here,” Herder said.

Noting that Kopinak came when Chatham-Kent was amalgamating, he said, “So, his job was a tough one to organize and assemble a new police service.”

Herder said to bring together the four municipal police services – Chatham, Wallaceburg, Dresden and Tilbury, along with OPP officers that served the communities of Blenheim and Wheatley, was quite an accomplishment.


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Kopinak was a graduate of the FBI Academy in Quantico.

Chatham-Kent Police Services Board chair Pat Weaver said the community owes chief Kopinak a large debt.

“John became police chief at a pivotal point in our community and was tasked with creating a new Chatham-Kent Police Service,” he said. “He laid the foundation for what has become one of the finest services of its kind in the province.”

Current Chatham-Kent Police Chief Gary Conn echoed Weaver, calling him the architect of the Chatham-Kent Police Service.

“Chief Kopinak had the arduous task of amalgamating the Dresden, Chatham Wallaceburg and Tilbury services, while patrolling one of the largest geographical municipalities in the province and keeping costs below the provincial average,” said Chief Conn.

He also noted that at the same time, the province was implementing adequacy standards and regulations for all police services in Ontario that required chiefs of police to ensure members in their services completed ministry-accredited training.

“This was a monumental task in our profession,” added Conn.

Conn said chief Kopinak had a fundamental belief in community-based policing and continuous staff training.

Conn was personally involved in what chief Kopinak called “cross pollination” of policing when Kopinak approved a two-year secondment for Conn as an instructor at the Ontario Police College.

“Having had the privilege of working with chief Kopinak, I can speak on behalf of our entire service when I say he had the unique ability to command respect from everyone both in a personal and professional sense,” he said.


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He remained active in police matters attending the spring Zone 6 meeting of the Ontario association of Chiefs of Police (OACP).

“We send his family our deepest condolences,” Conn said.

John retired after serving as chief for five years, and accepted a position on the tri-board hospital and children’s services boards. He taught at St. Clair College and was the head of corporate security for Union Gas in Chatham-Kent. John was a member of CACP and OACP alumni and FBI alumnus.

He was chair of the Ontario Hockey Association board and was an avid fisherman and member of the Dover Rod and Gun Club. He was active in a number of volunteer efforts in the Mitchell’s Bay area.

Mayor Randy Hope said Kopinak was a man who served his community both in and out of uniform.

“John did so many things behind the scenes that the public will never know about,” he said. “He truly loved Chatham-Kent and was always willing to do what it took to make the community a better place.”

Funeral and visitation information can be found at

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