Blue Line

Preventing crime: Highlighting the Delta Police Department’s successful youth-focused programs

August 3, 2022  By Brittani Schroeder

Photo credit: Delta Police Department

The role of a Canadian police officer encompasses a wide variety of tasks and responsibilities, and one task that is of vital importance is crime prevention. When looking at how crime rates can be lowered in a community, agencies look at the community’s youth and make plans for how children and teens can be kept away from taking a dark path.

Across Canada, federal government agencies have been investing money in crime prevention. In April, the Canadian government committed to investing $5 million for crime prevention in Montreal. The government also invested in three additional projects, including programs for youth in specific neighbourhoods, and the Montreal Indigenous youth community.

In May, the federal government invested over $1.8 million for a crime prevention project in Nova Scotia. In a press statement, the government said their focus was on how “young people spend a lot of time online.” These funds from the National Crime Prevention Strategy (NCPS) aim to reduce cyberbullying and cyber violence.

Police departments are working alongside government money to help Canada’s youth that may be vulnerable to criminal opportunities. For this edition, Blue Line spoke with Deputy Chief Harj Sidhu, Community Policing Bureau, of the Delta Police Department (DPD) in British Columbia, about the success they are having with their youth-focused initiatives.

Community involvement

For a police agency to be successful in fulfilling its mandate, there needs to be a partnership between members of law enforcement and the communities they serve. Many police departments believe that the community is the eyes and ears for officers. The stronger a neighbourhood is together and the more activities they take part in, the more likely that unwanted activity is pushed out.

The DPD proactively builds relationships with the public and partnerships with stakeholders to problem-solve issues collaboratively. “An essential foundation of DPD’s community policing model is that all public safety concerns are handled in a problem oriented and data-driven manner,” said DC Sidhu. This approach is said to focus on connecting law enforcement with the community in ways that effectively respond to and prevent crime before it becomes a crisis. This connection and understanding of community concerns are developed through many pathways, including the DPD’s strategic planning process and various prevention and outreach programs. “The DPD’s principles of crime prevention and outreach are actioned through the pillars of engagement, environment, education and enforcement. The four priorities currently identified through community consultation are youth, community safety, road safety, and vulnerable persons.”

Youth-focused initiatives

The initiatives for youth are vital in identifying at risk and high-risk youth and attempting to provide these youth with connection, “connection to school, connection to other students, connection to educators, connection to coaches, mentors, counsellors and connection with police. It is the type of connections youth form that will determine their future path. The greater the number of positive connections youth have, the greater the chance of avoiding criminal behaviour,” said DC Sidhu.

Photo credit: Delta Police Department

The DPD currently focuses on two different youth initiatives: DPD Wrestling Program and the Student Police Academy. In January 2022, Cst. Sahota, a Youth Liaison Officer with the DPD, started the Wrestling Program. “Investigation revealed that a number of former students became involved in the regional gang conflict and drug trade. When the program started, it was anticipated that it may draw a dozen youth, however, we were surprised to have 40 youth on the very first day,” said DC Sidhu. The program regularly draws over 50 youth to the weekly sessions from a diverse segment of the student body, including females. The program aims to fulfill several goals, including providing coaching and mentorship opportunities; providing the means for local youth to connect with other youth, with whom they may not have normally had any interaction with; and providing youth with a healthy outlet and way to spend time while getting physically fit.

“By providing connection, coaching and mentorship, these youth are given a path to steer clear of criminal behaviour. Without this connection to each other and to the coaches, these youth would be targets for exploitation in the drug and gang environment.”

The DPD’s Student Police Academy (SPA) is another initiative focusing on providing youth opportunities. The SPA was started in 2004 and, through annual summer sessions, provides youth with a glimpse of what it’s like for police officers in training. The program requires the cooperation and support of the DPD Youth Team, Training Section, and other members of the department as well as the Delta School District. Everyone involved provides their expertise to teach the participants various aspects of police training, including legal studies, de-escalation techniques, note-taking, force options and firearms training. “The SPA is also an early recruiting tool for the DPD as the DPD has been lucky enough to hire a number of former Student Police Academy graduates,” said DC Sidhu.

The initiatives for youth are vital in identifying at risk and high-risk youth and attempting to provide these youth with connection.

In addition to these two initiatives, the DPD works with the City of Delta and a number of third-party providers who are contracted to provide crisis counselling to youth in crisis, rather than having the youth languish on waiting lists through the public system.

To bring the youth focused initiatives to fruition, the DPD partnered with both private and government agencies, such as the Delta School District and an organization called the Yo Bro Yo Girl Initiative, which helps to identify at risk and high-risk youth. The Youth Team also participates regularly with a multi-agency panel to conduct Intensive Case Management (ICM) meetings for high-risk youth, discussing ways for multiple agencies to assist each other in providing wrap-around care. “Our School Liaison Officers are routinely called to participate with Delta School District teachers, administrators, counsellors and youth care workers in Violence Threat Risk Assessment (VTRA) meetings in response to violence or threats directed at other students, staff or facilities. In addition, we also work closely with the community run Delta Police Foundation to fund portions of the SPA.”

Challenges in starting youth-focused initiatives

The DPD is well supported by the community, parents, stakeholders and the Delta Police Foundation, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t still face a host of challenges. Some of these challenges included ensuring sustainable funding and resources, equitable selection processes and evaluating success. “As an example, the Wrestling Program posed challenges for securing a suitable location—we eventually obtained access to the high school cafeteria—and obtaining wrestling mats. Luckily, the Delta School District was able to provide a set of mats that were already available at one of the local high schools.”

Another critical aspect to consider was having a good succession plan for the team to ensure consistency of service delivery every year. “As our SPA has been operating for 18 years, we had found that when we did not have the right passionate people leading the program, it was not as effective,” said DC Sidhu. The team took steps to make sure ongoing mentorship of police staff occurred within the program.

Photo credit: Delta Police Department

Financing the programs

Creating and running initiatives like the SPA and the Wrestling Program is not an inexpensive task. The SPA generally costs $10,000 to run for two weeks in the summer. To cover the costs, the DPD sets a user fee ($200) for successful applicants. The Delta Police Foundation subsidizes another part of the cost, and the DPD covers the remainder through its standard budgeting process.

The Wrestling Program requires a new set of mats in the near future, costing approximately $30,000 and the DPD is reviewing options to fund this purchase. “One of our non-government agency partners, the Yo Bro Yo Girl Initiative, generously supplies sandwiches and drinks for our youth participants following each training session and provides additional wrestling coaches/mentors. The DPD funded the purchase of t-shirts (a total cost of under $1,000) for regular Wrestling Program participants to foster a sense of pride, belonging and being part of a team.”

Advice for community mobilization officers

Blue Line reached out to several Community Officers across multiple police agencies to get their words of advice to officers who are just starting out in the community mobilization units.

Sergeant Doug Cowell, Community Mobilization Section of the Chatham-Kent Police Service said his best advice would be for the officers to listen. “Sometimes people just want or need to be heard. Treat everyone as human beings, no matter their social or economic status, mental health issues, addictions or criminal past. You don’t know how they got into the position they are in, and they need to be treated with dignity.”

Constable Sam Zacharias, the Community and Media Relations Officer for the Port Moody Police Department, said he himself is still learning how to best serve his community. “I think one of the most important things is getting boots on the ground and positively interacting with the community as much as possible—however that may look. Be it planned or impromptu, these interactions in the community certainly go a long way and foster a positive relationship between the police and the public.”

When offering advice to other police agencies, DC Sidhu stressed the importance of having suitable officers as part of the program who are committed and passionate about building community relationships and who are reflective of the youth being served. He suggested that departments need to be mindful of succession planning so the experience and knowledge is passed down to ensure continuity of highly effective service delivery and longevity of the programs. “Form or strengthen partnerships with your local school districts, community stakeholders and non-profit groups that you can collaborate with and obtain support and funding for the youth outreach initiatives,” he said. “When developing your program, consider what it is you are trying to achieve and have some evaluation criteria established to demonstrate the program’s efficacy. Finally, I’d just recommend you be patient, allow time for programs to develop and grow, and look for ways for youth to assist in continuously improving the programs by providing their perspectives and experiences.”

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