When retired officer Constable Laura Langdon was working with victims of domestic violence, she often met young people stuck in shelters with no opportunity to enjoy the outdoors.
In 2006, she and her husband – Constable Vince Langdon, who is also retired from the Service – took over the Toronto Recreational Outreach Outtripping Program (TROOP) from another retired cop, Bill Russell, who started it 17 years earlier.
Every summer, officers took young people on wilderness trips to introduce them to outdoor life for up to five days.
“What we are talking about, here, is giving youths opportunities they don’t have,” she said. “This program connects kids with other opportunities.”
Vince Landgon said TROOP is a shared experience.
“Some youths know each other, some don’t,” he said. “If you are walking on a trail and you see a bear, together, and jump off a cliff together, you are something because you did it together… When you are in the city, you have to act a certain way. Put up a front. When you are with us, you get to be kids.”
The program participants are victims of crime, or from shelters, many from the City of Toronto Family Residence Shelters in Scarborough – 150 kids in the last decade.
“I don’t think I have had one negative response upon their return,” said Lynn Bardett, a counsellor. “For most of them, it’s the first time they have gone out of the city, it’s the first time swimming in a lake, and it’s the first time canoeing, kayaking, portaging and cooking in a camp. It’s so many firsts for them. The life skills are also different than they would have had anywhere else.
“A parent wouldn’t have the opportunity or ability to afford such an experience. It’s an amazing experience. Many of these kids have never left Scarborough, so this is like a whole new world to them.”
Inspector Chris Boddy, of 11 Division, has experienced TROOP first-hand.
“It was the first time that most of the kids had actually gone north of Steeles Ave.” he said. “Getting them out of the city and out of their comfort zone and into an area that they have to rely on each other to feed themselves, to portage and to get to camp sites and work together, were things the kids had no idea about. It was also a great opportunity for kids to get to know cops and cops to get to know kids.”
With the Langdons enjoying retirement since the end of July 2017, Constable Dan Ramos, of the Community Partnerships and Engagement Unit, is now in charge of the program.
He experienced TROOP for the first time in 2012.
“Vince and Laura made an offer and I took them up on it,” he said. “I just love the connection officers make with the young people. The very first day, you could see and sense the apprehension and nervousness. By the end of the second day, the connection between the officers and the youths start to kick in and they began to ask some hard questions… To be in a wilderness setting is new for them. When they see a moose or bear, they get excited and take pictures. When the program ends, they give the police officers big hugs and there is some crying. It is such a great feeling for the youths and police officers.”
As part of the transition last year, Ramos led groups to Algonquin Park and a camp at Whitewash Lake.
Prior to the trips, Ramos did six weeks of training, including canoe-trip level leader level three, an advanced wilderness first aid course and moving water level one.
Pro Action Cops and Kids, a non-profit organization that funds youth-police programs, is TROOP’s sponsor.
Through the program, young people have gained Ontario Recreational Canoeing and Kayaking Association certifications and have been referred to scholarships.
Visit TROOP webpage to learn more