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Ross Howey Photo

Ross Howey Photo

PROVIDING EXPERTISE — Constable Ruel Green helps student Shelby Keedwell of Forest Heights Collegiate Institute with her presentation during the Waterloo Regional Police Service Cops and Youth Program at headquarters in Cambridge. 

Program connects officers with local youth

ROSS HOWEY, For the Independent

Students in school today have most likely been exposed to anti-drug and anti-crime films and presentations for much of their academic careers, and the messages have lost their impact.

One more short film on drug use, one more powerpoint about the dangers of alcohol — but none of it seems any different and it all blurs into the background.

Staff Sergeant John Goodman is aiming to change that with the Cops and Youth Program he leads at the Waterloo Regional Police Headquarters every Tuesday night for a group of 38 high school students from around the region. Students from Don Bosco, Eastwood Collegiate, Forest Heights, Galt Collegiate, Glenview Park, Grand River, Monsignor Doyle, Preston, Resurrection, St. Benedict’s, Sir John A. MacDonald, St. David’s, St. Mary’s, Southwood and Waterloo-Oxford participate in the program.

Students meet for three hours to learn about a certain topic and reflect on what they have learned that evening. The program focuses on areas of crime that have a direct impact on youth and school life covering anything from use of hard drugs to bullying.

Goodman said he tries to limit the use of films and powerpoint, relying instead on speakers to make a real connection with the students and pass on their real experiences. During the presentation on the dangers of drug use these speakers included Detective Darryl Smith from the drug unit, as well an inmate whose addiction led her to a life of crime and eventually a sentence of nearly three years at the Grand Valley Institute.

The inmate asked that she not be named as part of her agreement to speak with the students about her path of drug use.

The students listened attentively as she described her descent into the life of an addict and her heartbreaking path that led her to lose her children as drugs became more important to her.

Detective Smith took a frank and realistic approach in his speech to the students, accepting that telling them to not do drugs wasn’t enough, they needed to be shown why not to. They need to comprehend the real results of the choices they have to make.

The impact of what he was saying could be seen on all the faces in the room; each student was silent and following along intently to each word.

The inmate showed how a drug that is considered innocuous in today’s society, and is so prevalent in schools today as Detective Smith said, was responsible for her starting down the path of drugs: “It started with marijuana and it ended with a needle in my arm,” the inmate stated frankly.

This program is not simply a form of scaring these children onto the right path, but it is focused on education and spreading the message. The students are put into groups with students from other schools to create a presentation for the deputy chief as well as other students so that they can pass on what they have learned. Former program participant, Alyssa Chapelle, describes her experience with the program: “It was really interesting to get an up-close look into policing, to hear the real life stories of presenters, and to share ideas and opinions in discussions.”

Officers volunteer to mentor and assist the groups in planning their presentations as well as providing their expertise on the certain issues.

Goodman said he sees this program as an especially effective way of giving the students a voice and a chance to speak up about which issues they see as affecting their schools, information that would otherwise be lost. It is also information vital in creating a plan for tackling these issues in schools around the Region of Waterloo.

“This program has helped improve our methods for communicating with youth and has given us a better understanding of the issues and challenges our young people face every day,” said Inspector Daryl Goetz. “Engaging youth reflects one of our core values as a service and is another positive way of connecting with our community.”

The Waterloo Regional Police Service Cops and Youth program has given these kids a chance to learn about different issues central to their lives and to identify which ones are critical in the region’s schools. The program is now in its third year and Goodman is looking forward to being involved in running it again next year.

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