As a provincial youth outreach worker, Michael Kissi often encounters young people who are troubled, frustrated and have an opinion about police.
When he poses the question as to how many of them have had a negative interaction with Toronto police, about three to four of them in the group sessions he facilitates would raise their hands.
In response to how many have a negative impression of the police, everybody’s hands go up.
“For me, that’s extremely profound and powerful,” said Kissi who works at Rosalie Hall which provides a comprehensive range of early intervention, prevention and treatment services meeting the needs of young families from Scarborough and across the Toronto Region. “There is no way we can go on like this and I wanted to something about it.”
He enrolled in the Service’s eight-week Community Police Academy which offers an up-close look at what challenges police officers face on a daily basis,
Participants learned about Canada’s largest municipal police service and the criminal justice system, engaged in use-of-force training and scenario-based training and toured the Mounted Unit and Police Dog Services.
Kissi, who was among the second cohort of 34 that graduated on June 3, said the experience was fulfilling.
“I work with young people and families who have experienced negative interactions with police,” he said. “For me this was a huge opportunity to gain information and also challenge the police on some of the things they are doing in the community. I have young men who tell me they are constantly stopped and questioned by the police for no reason. I wanted the police to hear that from me and provide some answers for their actions.”
Graduates get credits towards a Community Policing Certificate and are empowered to have an impact on community safety in their own neighbourhoods and act as ambassadors for the Service.
“I think anyone who works with marginalized youth should participate in this program,” said Kissi who graduated from Jarvis Collegiate Institute and attended Northwestern University. “They need to be part of this as they act as a bridge between communities that trust them and they advocate for and the police.”
One of the three class valedictorians, Kissi comes from a family that embraces law enforcement.
Older brother Charles Kissi was a Toronto Police uniformed officer for a decade before joining Brock University four years ago as the men’s basketball head coach. Another brother, Martin, is a member of York Regional Police Service.
Michelle Stevenson was introduced to the program through an article in the Etobicoke Guardian newspaper.
“I live close to the police college and always wanted to know what goes on there,” she said. “This was an opportunity for me to get that information and learn more about the police.”
A Hydro One geography mapper, Stevenson said she learnt a lot from the program.
“One of the things I am bringing away from this experience is that the police are normal people like us and we can approach them,” she said. “I now feel confident to approach them.”
Amber Authier also learnt about the program through the Etobicoke Guardian.
“For me, I wanted to understand the mindset and thinking of officers when they are performing their jobs,” she said
Authier and most of the participants were most impressed with the scenario training and the critical thinking that’s involved when faced with a dangerous threat.
“That allowed us to get an idea of their thinking when faced with a threat,” she said. “That was very interesting.”
Grade 10 student Gurwinder Singh was the youngest graduate.
“I want to be a police officer, so this experience was very helpful,” said the 16-year-old who has also applied to be a Youth in Policing Initiative (YIPI) participant.
Sgt. Donovan Locke said the feedback from program participants has been extremely positive.
“In fact, it has been more then we hoped for,” said Locke who is the project lead. “Members of the public are getting an opportunity to see exactly what we do in different realms from community policing to investigations. Hopefully what we have here is 34 ambassadors and advocates who are going to spread the word.”
The other graduates were Bianca Agbayani, Ronald Antonroy, Eve Cassavoy, Benjamin Davoodi, Marcos De Almeida, Jacqueline Dennis, Cindy Gosine, Kathy-Lynn Greig, Mason Hussein, Lana Iskic, Nabil Khandaker, Mihail Kochankov, Yana Luetyuku, Ramya Narayan, Brooke Noddle, Eliana Paredes Arboleda, Akshey Sharma, Neha Singh, Jonathan Siviebadan, Brandon Stock, Calvin Sy, Ulas Tolunay, Tyssah Troyer, Mark Tuohy, Brian Vargas, Victoria Venpin, Mariia Vus, Brien Wong and Xinye Zhang.
The next program will start in the fall.
To learn more or apply for the Academy, visit tps.on.ca/police-academy