Participants in the Youth in Policing Initiative (YIPI) gain valuable work experience, their attitude to police and policing improves and they feel positive and confident about their experiences which they take back to their communities. In addition, the young people recognize, develop and pursue some of the career aspirations that attracted them to the program initially and the program facilitates positive and sustained personal relationships between the youth and members of the Toronto Police Service (TPS).
This conclusion was drawn in a recently published report assessing the effectiveness of the TPS Board youth initiatives.
York University professor Carl James and a support team comprising Selom Chapman Nyaho and Danielle Kwan-Lafond prepared the report that was submitted to the TPS Board last April.
Conceived six years ago, the YIPI program engages students between the ages of 14 and 17 from some of the city’s designated priority neighbourhoods who face significant challenges, including finding summer employment.
Last week, the latest batch of 150 students reported for work.
St. Michael’s Choir School student Kijana Mitchell said he learned about the program through a friend who was a participant last year.
“When I told him I was looking for a summer job, he recommended the YIPI program and promised that it’s going to be the best summer I will ever experience,” said 16-year-old Mitchell who aspires to be a surgeon.
Chief William Blair, who has supported the initiative from the inception, told the students that, by joining the TPS, they have accepted some responsibility for embracing a tradition and a legacy of honour, service and sacrifice to the city.
“I will tell you that working with us this summer will not be exciting every day, but it will be valuable,” said Blair. “The work that you do will make a difference. You will help us serve the people and this city and you will help us improve the quality of life for every citizen.
“This will be a learning experience for each and every one of you. You will learn new skills that will help you with your future aspirations. You will also learn about the value of public service to the community and to the city…We expect much of you. You will get from this program precisely what you put into it and we are counting on you to do your best by conducting yourself with honour, honesty and integrity each and every day.”
The youth will spend the next eight weeks working in 17 police stations and 32 TPS support units.
“I believe that the opportunity to work within this organization for an extended period of time instills a sense of respect for our police service among the young people and encourages them to consider policing as a career,” said Alok Mukherjee, Chair of the Toronto Police Services Board. “By recognizing and supporting the strengths of our youth, this program helps to build future leaders in neighbourhoods across Toronto. It also gives our officers a unique opportunity to interact with young people and to learn first hand about their lives, realities, hopes and aspirations.”
Mukherjee reminded the youth they are about to embark on one of the most valuable educational opportunities they will be presented with.
“Take this time to learn from our police officers,” he said. “Be proud of the great contribution you are making to Toronto. Know that we, as a Board and as a community, are extremely proud of you too.”
Three years ago, the YIPI program was permanently incorporated into the Ontario government’s list of youth programs and, a year later, the Ministry of Children & Youth Services increased its funding to the program to accommodate a 50 per cent increase in hires.
Research and Innovation Minister Glen Murray represented the provincial program at this year’s YIPI launch at TPS headquarters.
“Public service is the highest expression of our own society and it is what makes society civil and our city liveable,” said Murray, a former mayor of Winnipeg. “I am a big YIPI fan because I think it embodies all of those things. It connects young people who, in many instances have life experiences that would have given them reasons not to have hope, not to have faith and not to see a brighter future.
“This program presents them with connections to some of the most important people in our community and that is our police officers who, I think, more than any other group of citizens, express the highest calling of citizenship. It’s a great thing to talk about values and our commitment to each other, our shared concerns for our safety and well-being and the prosperity of our neighbourhoods, but it is quite another thing to be prepared to lay your life down for that.”
Murray told the students they have shown great courage in choosing to work for the police.
“You are an inspiring group of young people who are about to work with some great leaders and role models,” he said.
Two past participants – Lovejeet Bhatti and Mark Coronel – was at the launch to provide inspiration to this year’s class. Bhatti, who just completed her first year at the University of Guelph, aspires to be a TPS member while Coronel, who attends East York Collegiate Institute, plans to enrol at the New York Film Academy.
“Being part of the program left an enormous imprint on me,” said Bhatti who was assigned to Forensic Identification Services during her stint. “It opened doors for me and elevated my work ethic and personality.
“I grew up in a neighbourhood where police officers are not viewed in the greatest of ways. After my summer with the YIPI program, I could not wait to tell everyone how wrong they were.”
In addition to this year’s YIPI intake, five past participants have been re-hired to organize youth forums across the city.
Owen Song, Renuka Rajiv, Vivian Cheng, Esetban Calle and Cody Palmer will coordinate, plan and promote the forums in various communities.
“The intent of this is to engage youth and provide them with an opportunity to express their views on a number of topics including an assessment of their schools, community safety and feedback on local crime prevention initiatives,” said YIPI co-ordinator Danielle Dowdy. “A final report will also serve to assist divisional community response units in enhancing their youth strategies.”
Two junior assistants – Howard Shaw and Ardo Omer who were part of the program in 2007 and 2010 respectively – were also re-hired.
They will, among other things, create and maintain YIPI databases, develop and design flyers and brochures, assist with supervising 2011 YIPI’s on tours and ensure the smooth flow of the program.
Soon after becoming Chief in 2005, Blair suggested that the organization employ 20 young people. There were, however, no funds. With its financial resources stretched to the limit, the Chief turned to then-incoming Deputy Chief Keith Forde for suggestions as to where funding could be accessed for such a project.
Forde and Mukherjee approached Mary Anne Chambers, the then Minister of Children and Youth Services, who was at the time formulating a government strategy to address youth needs.
The students are paid $10.90 and hour.