'We're reaching kids when they're at their most vulnerable stage'
Meeting Wednesday, board members received an update on youth programs from Const. Andrew Zloty, Community Response Unit, and Const. Gilles Rainville, of the six-member rural unit.
Rainville said the unit was formed in 2007 to patrol areas such as Levack, Coniston, Chelmsford and Capreol. All officers are trained on snow machines and boats, and they operate out of the Lionel E. Lalonde Centre in Azilda.
Each officer is assigned to youth centres in the rural communities, he said, and they are often asked to speak to students in plain clothes.
“We want them top see that the police aren't just robots,” Rainville said. In addition to presentations on safety, they head up programs such as Golfing with a Cop, Operation Pumpkin Patrol at Halloween and Canadian Tire Cops, Kids and Fishing.
The latter event has proved most successful, growing from 10 or 15 kids to 50, who gather each summer at Whitewater Lake in Azilda to go fishing. Each child gets a tackle box, rod, fishing hat and a bag, plus there's a big BBQ at the end at the end of the day.
“We have three pretty big prizes at the end for the biggest fish,” Rainville said.
He told the story of one child last year who was on his boat, a novice to the sport who was jumping around and making noise.
“So he's not paying attention … (but) he gets a large bass on his line, and he brings it into the boat,” Rainville said. “I couldn't believe it.
“We weigh in, and doesn't he get the biggest fish prize. And he says, 'You know officer, I really had fun. I'll never forget this.'”
Later, one of the youth centre workers told him that the child was disadvantaged and this was a major event in his life.
“He said, 'That kid who won the prize – he had never gone fishing before. Ever.' What a memory for him to have.
“If we're bringing 50 kids fishing every year, I think we (can be confident) that we're making a difference.”
Zloty, whose unit concentrates on the city, said young people are also taking a different view of officers when they see them on bike patrol. Instead of hiding, they're more eager to engage them and let them know they're not doing anything wrong.
“We seem to be more accepted,” Zloty said. “People don't run when they see us coming through the parks on our bikes, which is nice to see.
“So we're reaching kids when they're at their most vulnerable stage.”