Grown men and small children were sprinting up and down the outdoor facility, firing shots on one another and battling for ball control. Despite the size difference, the game was actually fairly competitive.
“We have a mixture out there of Canadian military, some of our officers and everybody else is just people who live in this neighbourhood,” said Const. Ken Birtch, a member of the Greater Sudbury Police Service. “They’re playing together and they’re playing quite competitively. The little ones aren’t afraid even slightly.
It was part of an event held Monday evening that was organized by Birtch and the Neighbourhood Policing Unit. While the Cops to Conquer Cancer road hockey team, made up of GSPS officers, took on the local kids, those who weren’t interested in hockey were enjoying a complimentary barbecue and face-painting. A similar event was hosted Wednesday evening on Louis Street.
“They are building a respect for each other, they learn to enjoy each other and there’s a trust that forms, so it’s always good,” Birtch said.
Const. Chris Hart, captain of the Cops to Conquer Cancer road hockey team, said he was impressed by the number of people who turned out for Monday’s event.
“I had no idea this many people would be here,” he said. “I think it’s huge. The kids see us as real people, too, and see we like the same sports and we’re just like them. It gives us a chance to joke around and have some fun with them.”
Troy Jones, 11, stepped aside from the game just long enough for a brief interview but not a second more. His eyes never left the action on the outdoor rink, eager to get his stick back on the ground.
“I think it’s awesome because when I grow up, I want to be a cop,” he said. “And I like hockey, too.”
Troy said he doesn’t play “actual skating hockey,” but plays lots of road hockey, and was proud to share that he earned an assist in the game against the cops.
As much as the event was an opportunity for the kids to get familiar with the officers, it was also an opportunity for the police service to get more familiar with the community and its residents.
“It helps us develop lines of communication, which helps us assess where the needs are,” Birtch said. “It gets these people out of their houses so we can learn their names, send them an email and invite them to join us at other (community) events.”
The GSPS Neighbourhood Policing Unit office is situated in an apartment building in the Ryan Heights neighbourhood, which has allowed the officers an opportunity to develop a rapport with the residents.
“We’re getting lots of very good information, and it’s not all just raw intelligence about who is selling drugs,” Birtch said. “It’s information about people who are struggling either financially or otherwise.”