By RON FANFAIR
Just a few years ago, a number of parents expressed their feelings in no uncertain manner that their children and other Black youths in the city would not be interested in pursuing summer job opportunities with the Toronto Police Service.
Deputy Chief Keith Forde was frustrated, but then Ontario Cabinet Minister Mary Anne Chambers was not fazed. Forde and TPS Board chair Dr. Alok Mukherjee had just approached Chambers who was at the time formulating a government strategy to address youth needs, including a Youth in Policing initiative and she was not about to let this grand opportunity for youth slip by.
“My reaction to that kind of thing is typically, let me show you,” said Chambers at last Monday’s launch of this year’s Youth in Policing initiative at TPS headquarters. “For every one of you here today, there are at least 10 disappointed young people out there because they did not get in the program.”
A total of 150 students between the ages of 14 and 17 are enrolled in this summer’s program. There were 750 applicants.
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.
“This is an opportunity to build a different relationship with young people and give them a chance to realize their potential,” said Chief Bill Blair. “You represent the best of our future and we want you to learn from the work experience. But I can also promise you that we will learn from our exposure to you.
“This is one of our most important programs. By putting on that blue shirt, you have made a commitment to our city, our service and yourself and I want you to live up to that commitment. I want you to work hard and I want you to learn and build relationships with us and each other.”
Mukherjee said the overwhelming response to this year’s program shows that there is a huge need for similar initiatives.
“You are about to embark on one of the most valuable educational opportunities you have ever had,” he told them. “Take the time to learn from our police officers and from each other and be proud of the great contribution you are making to Toronto.”
Toronto Centre Liberal MPP Glen Murray also addressed the summer interns.
“You are an extraordinary group of people,” he told them. “You come at a time when we have more health and more wealth. You have more rights, more civil liberties and more technology than any other generation in human history.”
This year’s program ends on August 27 and each student receives an hourly wage of $10.90.