My friend didn't plan to spend his Saturday night getting robbed at gunpoint. Two kids made him empty his pockets somewhere near Yonge and Gerrard. They didn't even care about the backpack he had on. And all for $15 and not enough pot to get them high. He decided not to file a report. The anticlimactic ending is not unusual. But with youth shootings now a minor epidemic, young people's reluctance to access police services seems particularly distressing. In addition, youth, particularly in troubled areas, tend to shrink away from cooperation with police investigations.
You'd think, given the impasse, that police would take every opportunity to commune with younger folks.
Not so, it would appear.
One of the most sophisticated attempts at cop-youth dialogue has stalled at the outset.
This is the effort of the Toronto Youth Committee (TYC), a group that advises city council on youth issues, to develop a partnership with Toronto police for a much-needed summit on youth violence and safety.
"We ask the police services board several times a year. It's been promised, but nothing has come of it. Your head starts to hurt when you bang it too long," says councillor Olivia Chow. "The police need to establish a connection with youth, not just tell them what to do."
It's baffling to TYC member Ryan Teschner that there has been so little movement thus far given the current situation. "Chief Fantino is frustrated by the way young people treat police, and young people are frustrated by the way they are treated by the police," he says. So it's time for both to take some risks.
It's not that there aren't ongoing initiatives. Members of the Toronto police services have instituted programs in partnership with school boards and funded by corporate donors. One is called T.R.O.O.P (Toronto Recreational Outreach Out-tripping Program), which enables underprivileged youth and those who've had a brush with the law to go on camping trips with officers.
"Ninety-five per cent of the kids have not been north of Steeles. Fishing is a big hit since none of them have ever fished before," said Sergeant Bill Russell. "It helps to build partnerships that can provide a exclamation-mark experience in their life."
Another attempt, Empowered Student Partnerships (ESP), sees Toronto police, the Canadian Safe School Network, ProAction and all four school boards in the city of Toronto working in concert. "The focus is on empowering students to make positive change in their schools by working together as a team with the Toronto police," says central steering committee member Detective Constable Diana Korn-Hassani.
ESP starter kits are sent to schools, students volunteer and a representative meets with Toronto police at divisional meetings. "There are 20 kids involved in our program," says a special education teacher and adviser for the ESP program at Georges Vanier Secondary School. "We did a huge survey at the school, and the concerns we came up with were anti-harassment, drugs, drinking and driving, gang activity and violence."
But these attempts are not exactly the structured, agenda-setting, mutually respectful relationship with officers TYC reps have been hoping for. They're still holding out for that elusive summit.
Toronto police services board vice-chair Gloria Lindsay Luby concedes, "There have been a lot of items for the service to deal lately, what with Holly Jones and Cecilia Zhang, and now all the shootings. I couldn't tell you why (the summit) hasn't happened yet. I can tell you we are hoping to hear from police soon. We have spoken to them a few months ago and have a meeting set for December."
TYC members are waiting patiently. Says Teschner, "We are really looking to work with the police, but I don't think there is an interest in partnership."