OPP youth program bridges gap between teens, police

If you're a teenager who wants to know some of the ins and outs about policing and don't mind spending more time in a classroom after school hours, Ontario Provincial Police's youth program might be for you.

For Oxford County OPP, the Youth Citizen Police Academy offers the police force the chance to promote the more positive aspects of policing to a younger demographic. Teens aged 16 to 18 will learn more about the various roles members of the OPP have in the communities they serve.

"It's just a great way to get our youth engaged in a different program," said Const. Randi Crawford, Oxford OPP's media officer. "It focuses solely on them, and building their relationships in our community, and introducing them to a very positive experience with police."

Teens chosen to participate will hear presentations about crime, canine services, recruitment and civilian roles among other law enforcement services.

Brant OPP just completed the program in their district for a group of about 20 teens earlier this week, which Crawford said was a success.

One of the academy's purposes is for the OPP to promote the positive aspects of policing to youth, Crawford said.

Some school boards have restricted the ability of police to have a presence in schools which helps build positive relationships with youth, Crawford said, and the Youth Citizen Police Academy is a way to bridge the gap created by the absence of police in learning environments.

"What's the message that we send young people when you pull school resource officers out," and speak disparagingly of them? said Laura Huey, a sociology professor who studies policing.

Police forces across Canada are facing shortages from municipal to federal level law enforcement, Huey said.

One of the reasons Huey cited is due to how police are portrayed in the media, which can deter applicants.

"We dunk on policing constantly," she said. "I cannot open one newspaper without seeing an article that makes them look like they're corrupt or this or that (and) is that a profession people want to go into?"

In the past year, the Ontario government has taken measures to encourage more applicants to police forces across the province.

In April 2023, the Ford government announced it would make it easier to for police services in Ontario to recruit and train more officers, by getting rid of post-secondary education requirements, axing tuition fees at the Ontario Police College and expanding the number of recruits that can be trained annually.

Asked if the Youth Citizen Police Academy was a tool the OPP is using for recruitment, Crawford said the program is "a great way to encourage recruitment" but the purpose of the academy wasn't directly related to staffing shortages.

"It's a really a great way to get people involved, in not just policing in general, but our OPP organization as a whole."

Huey said the academy would likely have a limited impact on recruitment, but agreed with Crawford that its goal would be "to create that positive community policing presence."

bwilliams@postmedia.com

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What: Program for youth to have an opportunity to learn about policing.

Who: Oxford County residents between the ages of 16 and 18

Applications: Applications are being accepted until March, 15 and are available at the front counter of the two Oxford OPP detachments (110 Mutual St. in Ingersoll and 90 Concession St. E. in Tillsonburg).

When: The six-week program begins on April 17 and will be held in Tillsonburg every Wednesday from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Brian Williams, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, London Free Press