Jordanna Hamel had every reason to be happy just days before Christmas.
Just hours before graduating from this year’s Youth in Policing Initiative (YIPI) after-school program on December 19 at the Toronto Police College, the Stephen Leacock Collegiate Institute student was accepted to Trent University to pursue anthropology and history studies next year.
“This is one of the best days in my life,” remarked Hamel, who was assigned to 33 Division. “I learned a lot this fall from interacting with police officers and policing is certainly an option as I go forward.”
She, along with Natalie Puopolo, Thivijan Priyatharsan and James Austria, were assigned to the Division for the 17-week program.
“We really enjoyed having these young people work with us,” said Sergeant Terri Ng. “They were very motivated, positive and a real breath of fresh air.”
A total of 61 students were assigned to the Toronto Police Service’s 17 Divisions and many other units during the fall program, launched in 2012.
St. Patrick Catholic Secondary School student Patricia Mbabazi, who was at 51 Division, said she will consider policing as a career option.
“Working with police gave me an opportunity to see the other side of the work they do,” said the Grade 11 student. “The program was very valuable.”
Constable Jason Domingo, of 51 Division, attended the graduation ceremony.
“I am really going to miss having them around and that’s why I had to be here today,” he said. “From the very first day, they were eager to learn and they were always willing to accept any task they were assigned.”
Established with the assistance of Mary Anne Chambers, the Minister of Children & Youth Services at the time, the YIPI program is a component of the province’s Youth Opportunities Strategy conceived to help young people facing barriers achieve success.
The YIPI program is a component of the province’s Youth Opportunities Strategy conceived to help young people facing barriers achieve success. In 2008, the program was permanently incorporated into the Ontario government’s list of youth programs and, a year later, the province expanded its funding to the program to accommodate a 50 per cent increase in hires.
In her remarks at the graduation ceremony, Chambers said an organization can only be successful if the right tone is set at the most senior levels of its leadership.
“The Toronto Police and its Board have embraced this initiative fully,” said Chambers. “…They have demonstrated what can be accomplished when governments find willing and capable partners to deliver on their quest to serve the public in a good way. They have also helped to showcase the ability of our young people to excel when given a fair chance to do so… It’s my sincere hope that the constructive and mutually beneficial relationships that this program has fostered will become the model for all interactions between police and youth.”
Chambers had been advocating for police and young people to work together ever since her two sons – Nicholas and Stefan – were enrolled in Blessed Pope John Paul II Catholic Secondary School nearly 25 years ago.
“I suggested to the principal that it would be good for the students if there were police officers involved in the life of the school,” she said. “I thought it would be an opportunity to establish constructive relationships on the positive circumstances and a great way to build trust and mutual respect between the students and the police. I believed it would certainly be better than the possibility of the first encounter between police and young people being a negative confrontation. The principal dismissed my idea as impossible because he felt the police didn’t have the resources to enable them to be engaged in schools.
“While there is more to be done, we have come a long way. I have never abandoned my conviction that it’s best preferable and possible to have positive relationships between young people and police in the communities they serve and protect.”
When the idea of youth working with police was floated, there was skepticism from community members that young people would not want to work alongside cops. There was also resistance and doubt within the TPS.
“I was one of those cynical skeptics,” admitted Deputy Chief Peter Sloly. “I didn’t think we could do this. I didn’t think the TPS would buy into it, I didn’t think the frontline officers could work with this and I didn’t think our community and our young people would engage in this. I am so happy to be proven wrong on this point. I am so happy to say, here tonight, that this is and will continue to be one of the most important community engagement efforts this Service does and it’s proof positive that we can overcome even the deepest cynicism, fear and restraint to make things work.”
Sloly praised the frontline officers, who work directly with the young people, for their commitment and dedication, and the graduates for embracing the initiative.
“You are part of the legacy of the Toronto Police Service,” he told the graduates. “You will have friends and supporters in us as long you continue on. Count on us having your back and we can count on you being ambassadors for us in the community as well.”