A federal grant will help Neighbourhood Officers prevent crime by empowering the young people in the communities they police.
Over 350 young people from eight neighbourhoods will take part in six-month life skills program designed to connect them to the city outside of their own neighbourhood and give them new experiences and skills.
“A lot of kids don’t ever leave their complex, school or community centre in their neighbourhoods,” says Staff Sergeant Andrew Ecklund, who spearheaded the two-year project across four police Divisions. “This gives them the opportunity to see there is more out there and gives them the proper tools and skills to be competitive in the job market.”
The sessions will cover simple topics from eating healthy to resume writing or simply making good life choices, however, there will also be opportunity to be accredited in CPR, First Aid and food handling to make them ready for the job market.
"We want to teach young people the life skills so they can succeed,” he said, of the program that involves youth from 12 to 20. “It builds up community resiliency. If a community is employed, it’s a stronger community. A main root issue of violence is poverty.”
He said the Neighbourhood Officers will also get the opportunity to bring a positive program to the community they police and connect with young people and their parents.
“We want to build relationships between young people and Neighbourhood Officers as well as create young leaders in these communities,” said Ecklund, noting that young people who engaged in the program will be brought back to mentor more youth.
The program launches in 42 Division (Malvern, L’Amoreaux) and 41 Division (Oakridge, Kennedy Park) in April, followed by 11 Division (Lambton Baby Point, Weston-Pelham Park) and 22 Division (Islington City Centre West, Etobicoke West Mall) in May.
The grant was part of $7.1 million for community programs for Toronto to help prevent crime – specifically to keep young people from taking part in violent crime.
Minister of Border Security and Organized Crime Reduction Bill Blair said the funding will help address the circumstances that give rise to violence and support police officers and community leaders who are working diligently to keep communities safe.
“All three orders of government have a responsibility to make the investments and the commitment necessary to keep our communities safe – there is no greater responsibility than the safety of our youth.”
We know that with the proper resources and proper plan in play we have an opportunity for sustainable solutions
Mayor John Tory said community programs like these pay off.
“Like all other measures they don’t represent a magic answer, which no one has but they form an important part of the answer. The rise in shootings we have seen in 2018 right up to this day is simply not acceptable,” Tory said.
Over 1,500 young people will be helped by the programs.
Chief Mark Saunders says proactive measures are part of the solution to stopping violence crime by allowing young people to make better decisions earlier in their lives.
“We know we can’t arrest our way out of this. We know that with the proper resources and proper plan in play we have an opportunity for sustainable solutions,” Saunders said. “Success is helping move in the right direction and have meaningful lives.”
He thanked the federal government for listening and moving in the right direction as well as the City of Toronto for working collectively with the Service to find the right solutions.