Focusing on reducing local youth’s involvement in the criminal justice system is the goal of a new program from the Red Deer RCMP.
The Youth Intervention Team began last September and so far officers have provided support to youth and their families on nearly 1,000 files under the program since its inception, said Cpl. Karyn Kay of the Red Deer RCMP.
“The whole purpose is to catch the youth and provide supports to them before getting into the criminality world or if they are in the criminality world to be able to provide supports and resources so they can make different choices in their lives,” said Kay.
“I got to Red Deer in the fall of 2015 and our community policing unit had been wiped clean and we just felt we needed to be able to assist the members and take some of their workload off.
“Our members were doing a lot of front-line stuff – there are a lot of members and there are a lot of youth and I don’t think the youth were given consequences that were applicable to their behaviour. They would have a fight and we would be giving them a warning and we needed to have some follow through.”
The Youth Intervention Team has broken new ground in its work with youth in a number of ways, not least as the first RCMP detachment in Alberta to reach out to youth through facebook and Instagram.
“It’s important to meet youth where they’re at, and we’re having better success connecting with youth through social media than we ever did in the more formal ways,” said Kay.
“We’re often trying to connect with youth who chronically go missing, or fail to appear in court, for example. When we reach out on social media, we find they’re listening to what we have to say and responding to us. Those relationships with youth are crucial to the work we’re doing.”
The Youth Intervention Team works with crown prosecutors to successfully obtain court-ordered mental health assessments, recommend release conditions, enroll youth in the Alternative Measures Program and restorative justice healing circles, secure them admission to treatment facilities and re-locate youth to more appropriate homes.
In 2016, Kay facilitated the development of closer relationships between Red Deer RCMP and key players in a High Risk Youth Intervention Committee; the committee works collaboratively to identify medium-risk youth and create intervention strategies tailor-made for their needs.
Stakeholders include local school boards, the John Howard Society, Alberta Justice, Youth Justice Committee, Child and Family Services Agency (CFSA), Alberta Mental Health, addictions specialists, PCHAD Centre and the 49th Street Youth Shelter.
“With all of the supports Red Deer has here, which is phenomenal, Red Deer is by far so much more advanced than the rest of Alberta to have all of these key players who work together to help youth in our community,” said Kay.
Youth can get involved with the Intervention Team in a number of ways.
“We review files in the morning so that we have an idea of what is going on. Missing youth are automatically in as they are high risk.
“And then we identify youth, either on a referral basis from another supporting agency or we’ll identify someone who is high risk or chronic,” Kay added.
“With some youth it’s just a one-time thing and a quick call or interaction with a police officer is really all they need. For some of the most high risk ones we liaise with Edmonton with the missing persons unit there and get them registered as a missing person or get them registered as a sexually exploited youth if that is the case. If a youth is having a bad time at home we can make those referrals to agencies out there. It is a case-by-case basis.”
In addition, Kay has been recognized by the Alberta Association of Chiefs of Police for her outstanding service, and in particular for the work she leads with Red Deer youth who are at risk of becoming involved in criminality.
Kay was honoured at the Alberta Association of Chiefs of Police Outstanding Achievement Awards in Banff in April for her work in the area of crime prevention and community policing initiatives.
“I feel like we are really making a difference and improving our relationship between the police and the youth and that is what is really important.”