As gun related homicides doubled in the city from the previous year, 2005 became known as “The Year of the Gun”.
Concerned politicians, law enforcement officials and community leaders were all scratching their heads, seeking solutions to positively engage young people from some of the designated priority neighbourhoods who face significant challenges.
Just after becoming police chief in 2005, William Blair suggested that the organization employ 20 young people. There were, however, no funds. With its financial resources stretched to the limit, Blair turned to incoming Deputy Chief Keith Forde for suggestions as to where funding could be accessed for such a project.
Both Forde and TPS Board chair, Dr. Alok Mukherjee, approached then Minister of Children and Youth Services Mary Anne Chambers who was at the time formulating a government strategy to address youth needs, including a Youth in Policing initiative.
“We were shocked when we met with the minister and asked for funding for 20 young people and she said why not 100,” Forde says. “I promptly called a community meeting to present the plan for youths to work with us for a few weeks during the summer of 2006. After the presentation, I was stunned when these people, some of them leaders in the community, told me we would be lucky to get 10 youths because they felt young people would not want to work with us. That was one of the lowest points in my career, but I was determined that it would not prevent our organization from reaching out to young people and engaging them in a meaningful way.”
Over 1,000 candidates between the ages of 14 and 17 submitted applications for the 100 available spaces in the first year. In the past four years, the TPS has received nearly 4,000 applications and of the close to 600 high schools students from the 13 designated priority neighbourhoods along with Regent Park and Parkdale that have passed through the program, only one was fired, and that was three years ago for being constantly late.
The youth are exposed to various TPS departments, including forensic identification, traffic safety, community mobilization and information technology.
In 2008, the provincial government announced the initiative would be permanently incorporated in its list of youth programs and last year the ministry increased its funding to the program in order to accommodate a 50 per cent increase in hires resulting in the TPS now being able to facilitate 150 students who will report for duty on July 5. This year’s program ends on August 27 and each student receives an hourly wage of $10.90.
“The Toronto Police Service did this project so well that they enabled me to justify why the government should go forward with this program and expand it to other areas of the province,” said Chambers.
Forde and Youth in Policing program coordinator Danielle Dowdy were honoured recently with the TPS Business Excellence award for fostering positive and lasting relationships between youth and the TPS.
“To say that this program has been a huge success with a 99.7 per cent retention rate is an understatement,” said Dowdy who has been with the project from the inception. “The biggest thing for me was watching these young people grow and mature in just a few weeks. For many of them, this was their first experience with the police and also in a working environment. They came to work on time and they were very professional and respectful. Many of them also expressed an interest in coming back to work with us as uniformed officers and civilians.”