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Who Says a Kid Can't Make a Difference?

As the Detachment leader at Strathmore Alberta, I introduced a youth initiative called the "Onside Program" to our area.

Police mentoring kids...good kids, troubled kids, under privileged kids.

The idea was to involve cops and kids in something unique and potentially transformational. Take them to a special event, keep it low pressure, just be there as a friend and enjoy the moment. We wanted to let the kids see the human side of the Police Officer, a step beyond the facade of the enforcer. We focused on meeting the kids on their turf and their terms. We would be there just to listen, and if the moment arose, maybe talk about some of the personal issues they faced. We might discuss subjects like peer pressure, legal and societal expectations, etc. The special event wasn't the focus so much as it was a vehicle that we could use, the police and the youth, to connect on a human level.

We started with hockey and football games. The Calgary Flames and Calgary Stampeders each donated eight season tickets in support of our cause. Police Officers also rose to the challenge by quickly beginning to identify a list of boys and girls that could benefit from the mentoring. This included youth that deserved positive recognition, youth on the edge of the law and youth that just never seemed get picked for anything else.

To jump-start the program, on-duty Police Officers were also allowed to participate. This sometimes had me working operational shifts to ensure minimum resource standards were met. The officers were authorized to transport the youth in police cars when necessary. They were also provided with funds to pay for popcorn, pop and even souvenirs for the kids. We really wanted to create an environment that was special for everyone involved.

Sounded like a great idea. Well, it didn't take long before I started to have second thoughts about this community policing initiative. The word got out...on-duty police officers, popcorn, treats, hockey games and using police transport. I started to face both internal and external pressures about optics, legitimacy and accountability of this unusual policing approach.

I was getting close to giving up and calling it quits when something very magical happened. It was my turn to take a group of kids to a hockey game. "I'll consider cancelling the Onside program after I go to the game," I said. So off I went to Calgary, seven kids and one cop. During the evening, I learned one of the boys with me had just lost his dad to a fatal illness. He was hurting really bad and needed to talk. Boy, did we talk ...and cry and laugh and everything in between. And it was at that moment that, I knew we were doing the right thing. From that day forward, nothing could stop the Onside program from continuing.

I still think of that young man often. I think of his emptiness, his pain, his hopes and his dreams. Funny thing is, he has no idea the difference he made in the lives of hundreds of kids and cops. It was because of him the Onside program remained alive. We both benefited from that special evening. I believe that he learned that people in his community really care. I learned about courage. Doing the right thing requires the courage to stand strong at both the individual and leadership level.

Well, not too long after that event, my career offered me another transfer and I was on the move again. But the Onside program continued and soon after became a major hit all over the Calgary region. Strathmore Detachment had the foresight to practice the abundance mentality by sharing the sporting tickets with Police Departments and kids from all over southern Alberta. As a result, a wide variety of both police officers and youth had the opportunity to get together in a positive setting. Maybe some even shared a special moment that will last a lifetime.

Who says a kid can't make a difference?

Superintendent Ward Clapham
Detachment Leader (Officer in Charge)
Royal Canadian Mounted Police
Richmond, British Columbia

Cool Cop In Hot Water
True Story - How Times Have Changed
 (Adobe Acrobat 4.0 PDF Format)

Investing In Our Youth - Smart Policing
Individual Leadership  (Adobe Acrobat 4.0 PDF Format)

40 Developmental Assets
Individual Leadership Building Blocks  (Adobe Acrobat 4.0 PDF Format)

Asset Building Presentation  (Adobe Acrobat 4.0 PDF Format)
City of Nanaimo


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