Written by: Colette Squires, November 2007
The APD Youth Squad:
Passion in Action!
Having police officers in Abbotsford schools is not a new idea, but a few years ago the Abbotsford Police Department took a new direction by developing the APD Youth Squad. These dedicated officers still work in schools, but also build connections with homeless youth, at-risk youth on the streets, and youth who are chronic offenders, involved in gangs, runaways or vulnerable to sexual exploitation.
The Youth Squad officers also work closely with us on many of our school-based and community cases involving kids and teenagers. Their passion and commitment to Abbotsford’s young people is a testimony to the fine work of the Abbotsford Police.
Constable Jill Parker, who coordinates the ICE program (Identifying Child Exploitation) and the Chronic Missing Children program, has years of experience working with kids in conflict or trouble at their schools.
“Restorative Justice helps to bring a meaningful resolution for all parties involved in a conflict. By getting to the root of the issues, RJ is able to help the youth sort out not just the criminal incident which brings the young people to the RJ table, but also to deal with unresolved past issues and misunderstandings between the parties which may have contributed to the motivation for the criminal behavior. When you put all the pieces of the story together, including the history between the parties involved, defining who the perpetrator and the victim is can be difficult. The victim of this criminal incident may have been a perpetrator of a previous criminal incident involving the other party. Traditionally police officers have spoken to both parties and advised them to stay away from each other. This approach does not resolve any of the ill feelings and motivating factors involved. Sometimes if these feelings aren't dealt with they can fester and grow, sometimes spreading to include friends, or larger groups at their schools, creating a snowball effect resulting in even greater conflict. In many ways Restorative Justice acts as an extinguisher, putting out bush fires before they become raging forest fires.”
Constable Kevin Murray agrees. “Initially, I was skeptical as to the value and effectiveness of this program. Then, after having experienced the process first-hand and having observed the positive outcomes for both offenders and victims alike, I am a true believer.”
Kevin works with at-risk and high-risk youth, especially those who don’t attend school. Usually these young people have significant family dysfunction and part of Kevin’s role is to connect them with help from local service agencies. He has also worked closely with ARJAA on cases involving teenagers involved in criminal behaviour in the community. “This is an ideal program for first-time offenders who are agreeable to taking responsibility for their actions. In those cases of which I am personally aware, there has been low recidivism, which is something I cannot say about my traditional criminal court experiences.” Recidivism, a technical term that refers to the rates of re-offending behaviour after an initial offence, is an important issue in youth criminal justice. Young people going through Restorative Justice processes tend to stay crime-free at a much higher rate than young people processed through court and youth probation.
Other Youth Squad members include Constable Dan Baldinger, who works in the schools in east Abbotsford. “Restorative Justice works because it encourages kids to face up to what they have done and take responsibility for their actions. It shows them there are consequences for what they do, and that their actions affect everyone around them. It teaches young kids how to become responsible adults.”
Constable Krys Pappius sees this similarly: “RJ looks at relationships and not just the relationship between the victim and the offender, but the relationship between all the stakeholders; whether that be the parents, the schools, the mall management, whoever. It attaches a real face to what often is perceived as a victimless act.”
As she thinks about cases involving young people, she reflects, “Sometimes these kids aren’t really intending to hurt somebody, but they don’t appreciate the potential consequences of their actions. RJ puts a face and feelings to a crime, helping young people develop empathy and understanding for those they have affected. This will equip them to think before they act when they find themselves in a similar situation again. The other important thing they learn is that the situation has a huge impact on those around them, especially their parents and family.”
Constable Steve Kern, a long time member of the Youth Squad and Restorative Justice advocate, has now been transferred to a Patrol shift. We wish him well, and appreciate all he has done to support our work. Constable Rob Joiner, another long time Youth Squad member and supporter of Restorative Justice, is now on temporary secondment to the Traffic Division. Both of these Constables will be recognized for their contributions to the advancement of Restorative Justice in Abbotsford in November, 2007. Constable Martin Ellis-White completes the Youth Squad, and works with Constable Krys Pappius in west Abbotsford schools.
Colette Squires, November 2007