It was much more than a basketball match when Toronto Police officers faced a team of 15-year-olds from the People’s Church Basketball Program.
“It was about mentoring and community building,” said Constable Riaz Ebrahim, of the event which he set up at the People’s Church in North York as a means to interact with young people in the community he polices.
“Policing is changing and we have to build stronger ties with the community and close the gap between officers and them.”
While the officers defeated the boys 63-59, it was about what happened after the game where, over lunch, the youth were able to mingle with the officers and ask questions and just hang out with the 10 officers from the North York Division.
“We spoke about being police officers in the city, explaining the importance of school, skills they learn in school and what it’s like to be a young citizen in Toronto,” said Ebrahim.
Ebrahim believes the more officers interact with the children in a fun way, the easier it is to talk to them even when they are in uniform.
“I think that just the fact that they can see us outside the uniform in a different element makes us look like ‘okay you are just like me’… makes the uniform more friendly, too,” he said.
Ebrahim said they chose the People’s Church because it runs a basketball program for youth, ranging from 14-17, living in neighbourhoods all across Toronto.
Basketball is a way to encourage a healthy lifestyle for the youth, which encourages personal development, physical fitness and community involvement, said Ebrahim.
With the basketball game a big success, Ebrahim says he hopes to do it semi-annually, from now on.