Constable Peter Eckersell can’t recall ever seeing a police officer in his Scarborough elementary and high schools.
“I didn’t even know a cop back then,” he said.
With Toronto Police Officers stepping up community outreach that extends to schools, Eckersall wanted to celebrate how now more than ever young people have an opportunity to engage in positive interactions with officers.
Such was the case on May 4 when nearly 500 students from local schools in 41 and 43 Divisions attended Cedarbrae Collegiate Institute for a day of activities with officers sponsored by ProAction Cops & Kids - a non-profit that links officers and young people.
“This is such a positive environment for them and look at the big smiles on their faces,” said Eckersall, who joined the Service 18 years ago after being a paramedic for four years. “They are definitely enjoying being around us and learning about what it takes to be a police officer. I never had those opportunities when I was growing up.”
Students had the chance to learn about police horses, see police equipment such as ATVs and bicycles and try out a police-themed obstacle race.
Grade Five student Bibranaa Babanethran relished the opportunity to meet with cops from the two divisions, including Constable Matthew Borch.
“I am happy to be here and it’s really good to communicate with them,” he said. “I feel like if I am their friends.”
With the first week of May focussing on mental health and well-being across the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), Chief Mark Saunders welcomed the opportunity to join educators for a fun and informative day that included an obstacle race on the school stage between police officers and TDSB staff.
“Anything that we can do to have sports to create inclusion is such an important thing, and the fact that we are talking about mental wellness which is so important is great,” he said. “Our officers get to develop strong relationships with you and you get to see them as human beings. But more importantly, you have the opportunity to have fun and to talk to them. That’s why we are here today because we want to do anything we can to make that positive difference in your life.”
TDSB superintendents Anne Seymour and Shirley Chan thanked the officers for coming out and engaging with the elementary school students.
“This is awesome and we are so thrilled to be partnering with Toronto Police Service,” said Chan.
Constable Matthew Borch of 41 Division was among the many officers who took part in the obstacle race.
“It is very important that we come out and do anything we can to make an impression on these young people,” he said. “We want them to know that we are here to help and support them. It’s crucial that we enforce the positive aspects of what we do.”
Superintendent Mark Fenton, the 43 Division unit commander, concurred.
“Any interaction kids can have with police officers in a setting like this is positive,” he said. “This is a fantastic platform for them to meet our officers and for our officers to get to know them a little better.”