At the outset, there was apprehension and concern among some educators, parents and students about the presence of police officers in high schools in some of the city’s designated priority neighbourhoods.
Based on recommendations made by the three-member school community safety advisory panel set up after the May 2007 fatal shooting of Jordan Manners at C.W. Jefferys High School, the School Resource Officer (SRO) initiative was launched in September 2008 to increase safety in schools.
There were concerns that having an armed officer in a school could lead to the perception that the school environment was dangerous and could only be managed with a police officer in the building. Or the police officer would make arrests when children misbehave.
So far, these fears have not materialized. In addition to taking a proactive approach with schools to build healthy and trusting relationships, the SROs have – in many instances – done more than just make their schools safe. They have gone way above and beyond the call of duty to enhance student’s lives through proactive community policing. Some started recreational programs, others are coaches and mentors while a few use their own money to provide students with early morning nutritional meals.
Last week, the Rotary Club of Scarborough honoured one such officer, Jamaican-born Cheryl Tomlinson-Thompson, with the prestigious “Service Before Self Award”. This is the seventh year that the community-based service club has honoured a member of the city’s police, fire and emergency services.
The mother of two daughters, who has been a police officer for the past five years, has been at L’Amoreaux Collegiate Institute for the last two years during which time the Scarborough school has twice won the John Mungham School of the Year Award at the annual Crime Stoppers Chief of Police dinner. The award is presented to a school for demonstrating outstanding leadership against bullying, intolerance and promotion of school safety and a strong commitment to humanitarian causes through student and staff activities.
In preparation for a one-week humanitarian trip she made with her church to Haiti two months ago, Tomlinson-Thompson encouraged students to donate and collect toys for young Haitian children.
“This was an opportunity to strengthen their concept of global citizenship and awareness while fostering their philanthropic spirit by having them volunteer in gathering the toys,” she said.
The 42 Division officer also introduced students to Crime Scene Investigation techniques and successfully persuaded five L’Amoreaux females to participate in the “Locks of Love” program that allows girls to donate hair to make hairpieces for children who have lost their hair due to chemotherapy.
“There is a song we sang at our morning assembly during my primary school years in Jamaica, ‘No Man is an Island, No Man Stands Alone’,” said Tomlinson-Thompson. “That song has been an inspiration throughout my life. Nothing gives me more intrinsic satisfaction than knowing that you have made someone else’s life a bit better and brighter.
“I am humbled by this award and will use this opportunity of recognition to continue to spread the word of goodwill. I have first-hand experience of how contagious the spirit of philanthropy can be and I intend to infect as many people as I can. The world will be a much better place if we take a bit of our time from our daily chores and reach out to help someone else.”
Outside the school, Tomlinson-Thompson works with newcomers at the Malvern Resource Centre and she inspired 10 members of her division to shave their head to raise money for Cops for Cancer this year. In 2010, she shaved her head for the fundraiser.
Staff Sergeant David Rydzik nominated Tomlinson-Thompson for the Rotary Club award.
“She does such a wonderful job in her day-to-day activities at the school,” he said. “It’s really difficult for me to comprehend how she finds the time to do what she does at such a high level in policing and also do all the other extra-curricular activities she’s involved in.”
A University of Technology (UTECH) graduate, Tomlinson-Thompson worked in the information technology sector prior to migrating to Canada 12 years ago.
By RON FANFAIR