In the last decade, 31 Division Sergeant Stephen Hicks and his fellow officers have been making a huge difference in the Jane & Finch community.
When gun violence gripped the city in the summer of 2005, the concerned veteran officer went into the community to find out what were some of the societal problems contributing to the bloodshed.
“I was with the Primary Response Unit, at the time, and I went in there and spoke to families and young people to get a sense of what were some of the issues,” recalled Hicks. “What we heard was that the police and the community didn’t have a relationship and there was a lack of opportunities for young people.”
With Constable Glenn Jones at his side, Hicks committed to fix the problems.
“We said we would assist and help change those perceptions,” Hicks said.
The officers enlisted the help of community partners to start a few sports programs in the neighbourhood.
“We quickly figured out that sports weren’t the only solution that was going to help the young people,” Hicks said. “They needed mentors to teach them essential life skills and help them chart career paths.”
Hicks and Jones attended the 11-day Gang Resistance Education and Training (GREAT) program in Nashville. The evidence-based and effective gang and violence prevention program built around school-based, law enforcement officer-instructed classroom curricula, is intended as an immunization against delinquency, youth violence, and gang membership for children in the years immediately before the prime ages for introduction into gangs and delinquent behaviour.
They launched the program in their Division and others, including Flashlight Freddie that teaches young people leadership skills, and secured the assistance of other officers to run a series of sports camps with funding from ProAction Cops & Kids, a non-profit agency that links youth with police.
“The impact from all of these programs has been massive,” said Hicks. “Kids at the elementary level who have been through these programs are now considering policing and other professions as viable career options. Some of them have already applied to our police service and others are helping with mentoring.”