Despite the Youth in Policing Initiative’s (YIPI) overwhelming success, a parent approached former provincial minister Mary Anne Chambers at the end of last week’s new program launch seeking assurances that he had made the right decision in enrolling his child.
His son was among 157 teenagers from the city’s designated priority neighbourhoods reporting for police duty. They represent the seventh batch of high school students between the ages of 14 and 17 to be exposed to the program that caters to young people facing significant challenges, including finding summer employment.
The program was implemented when Chambers was Minister of Children & Youth Services and she has made it her duty to attend every launch and graduation.
“When the dad came up to me, I made it absolutely clear to him he has nothing to worry about,” said Chambers. “What impressed me is that even though he had some doubts, he made sure his son registered and he accompanied him to the opening ceremony. That’s a big step.”
Seven years ago, some leaders in the city’s Black community were certain that young people would be opposed to working with the police when the idea of a summer employment program was floated. They were wrong.
The first year, close to 1,100 youth applied for 100 available spots and this year there were 941 applicants. Of the 750 students who have passed through the program, all with the exception of two, who were fired for being chronically late, have graduated.
St. Joseph’s College graduate Rechelle Mortimer welcomed the opportunity to spend the summer with the service.
“I know the police write tickets and they make arrests, but I want to see the hard and dedicated work that go on behind the scene and learn more about what else they do,” said the 17-year-old Malvern resident who enters York University in September to study Psychology. “I have had friends and family members pulled over by police and told they fit the profile of someone the cops are looking for. I also live in a community where Blacks are often stopped and questioned frequently by the police. I don’t like that, but at the same time I am not going to use it to define the police service.
“In addition to finding out more about what the police do, I am here to gain work experience, meet new friends and make some cash to help pay my tuition.”
Mortimer aspires to be either a child & youth worker or a police officer.
St. Basil-The-Great College School student, Kwame Smith, is excited about his summer stint.
“I know the police are there to make arrests and protect communities, but I want to see what else they do,” said the 16-year-old student. “I am also here because I believe this is an opportunity to network and meet new friends.”
In welcoming the students, Chief William Blair said the program provides the service with the opportunity to get to find out the perspectives and aspirations of young people and also their perception of the city they live in.
“You are welcomed in our organization,” Blair told the students. “We will learn from you and you will learn from us. I am very confident that this experience will help you become better citizens, better individuals and more successful in the future. We are, of course, hopeful that some of you may choose professions in policing but, more importantly, we see this as an opportunity for you to learn about the value of citizenship, about giving back to your community and about serving the public.
“There is perhaps no greater skill that a young person can learn and the values that a young person can adopt than a commitment to serve their community. Working side by side with our officers and support staff, you will learn the importance of public service and you will be better citizens for the experience.”
Blair assured parents, some of whom attended this year’s launch at police headquarters, that their children will be treated with respect and dignity.
“You will see them grow, you will see them develop and you will be proud of what they have accomplished when we gather at the end of the summer to celebrate their achievements,” he added.
Four 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 accommodate a 50 per cent increase in hires.
“This is more than a summer job for these young people,” said the province’s Children & Youth Services Minister, Dr. Eric Hoskins. “It is an opportunity for them to build their resumes, experience the workplace and gain the self-confidence needed to achieve success in the future.”
Pickering-Scarborough East MPP, Tracy MacCharles, noted that the program helps build bridges between youth in high community-needs areas and the police.
“It also gives you the choice to see what policing is all about and to even consider a career in law enforcement,” she said. “This initiative also helps boost job skills, confidence and character. The experience that you will get here over the next few weeks will help bolster your resumes and you are going to make some money…We know that investing in youth pays off.”
Earning $10.90 an hour, the students will be exposed to the service’s 17 divisions and 48 support units in the next six weeks.
Based on the program’s success, the Ministry of Children & Youth Services has provided funding to 25 other police agencies in the province to implement the initiative.
“Clearly, we have started something powerful that is resonating in communities everywhere,” said Toronto Police Service Board chair, Dr. Alok Mukherjee. “This remarkable response alone shows the huge need for a program like this…I believe that the opportunity to work within this organization for an extended period of time instils a sense of respect for our police service among the young people and encourages them to consider policing as a career.
“By recognizing and supporting the strengths of our youth, this program helps 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.”
Student law clerk, Jarome Merchant, a YIPI participant two years ago, said the program provided him with a life roadmap.
“Before entering the program, I did not know which direction I should take for my future or even what my future looked like,” he said. “It was as a YIPI participant that I realized the skills I was acquiring would help me to mature. It was a good stepping stone for my future and also a positive networking tool for me.”
BY RON FANFAIR