As stated on the Government of Canada website regarding Pubic Safety, the National Crime Prevention Strategy is based on the principle that “the surest way to reduce crime is to focus on factors that put individuals at risk”. Evidence suggests that many adult offenders begin their criminal activities as young offenders, and eventually, these crimes become more and more serious as the age of the offenders progresses.
Troubled youth and the law
Many youths will try to assert their independence and take risks by engaging in offences such as underage drinking, shoplifting, fighting, and vandalism. Others may turn to more violent activities and gang involvement, which may include drug dealing, armed robberies, and kidnapping. This is due to the fact that the late teenage years are critical since young people, in many cases, are not able to find work or partake in any other activities where they can spend some valuable time to express themselves, whether through sport, music, arts, or community service.
The Montreal Police Service defines youth gangs as “An organized group of adolescents/and or young adults who rely on intimidation and violence, and commit criminal acts in order to gain power and recognition and/or control certain areas of unlawful activity” (Yessine, K. 2011, Government of Canada, Risk factors for delinquency among Canadian youth). Youth can also act and engage in violent behaviour on their own behalf.
Most susceptible youth
In Canada, Aboriginal youth are more vulnerable to joining gangs and partake in organized crime than non-Aboriginal youth (Yessine, K. 2011, Government of Canada, Risk factors for delinquency among Canadian youth). Aboriginal gangs are especially more prevalent in Western Canada.
Parents need to look for a variety of ways in which they can foster positive values and social skills in their youth. The issue of youth crime is a common concern to many communities across Canada. In fact, boys were almost twice as likely compared to girls to get involved in violent behaviour (Government of Canada, A Statistical Snapshot of Youth at Risk and Youth Offending in Canada, 2016). The prevalence of Canadian born youth to engage in delinquent behaviour is higher compared to foreign-born youth (23% for Canadian born and 15% for foreign born). Relationships between youth and the Police in at-risk communities must be built so that community-policing services can effectively protect and prevent delinquent crimes from occurring.
Delinquents and the role of the community Police force
Deep distrust between youth and the Police stems from years of negative exposure to police tactics and a deep rooting of an idea that Police presence in communities is a form of harassment. In certain areas of Toronto, youth have spoken of strained relationships with the police due to being frequently stopped and questioned as part of street check routine or carding, before it was banned. However, we have recently seen a rise in youth delinquency and criminal offences.
What many young people do not realize is the fact that Police officers need to be present and frequently on active patrols in their communities in order to conduct preventive policing, and prevent any crimes from occurring, in turn meaning protecting the community youth form further crimes and violence.
Protect and Serve by Intervention
Many schools across Ontario and Canada have an assigned school officer who acts as a key contact for youth, parents and teachers (RCMP, National Youth Strategy, 2015). The Toronto Police Service has specifically created their Youth in Policing Initiative Afterschool Program in 2012 in order to recognize the importance of providing support and employment opportunities for youth year round. The aim of the Youth In Policing program is to promote youth participation in and exposure to working environments through diverse, educational and community service work assignments (Toronto Police Service, Youth In Policing Initiative, 2016).
Federally, in order to reduce delinquent crime, the RCMP supports many outreach and engagement programs, specifically aimed at youth such as outreach and engagement, and intervention and diversion. These educational initiatives include school based prevention, youth consultation, youth-police partnerships, mentoring and behaviour modelling (RCMP, National Youth Strategy, 2015). Intervention initiatives include intervening with youth offenders and victims of crime to address underlying causes of crime and victimization through direct programming, multi agency partnerships and referrals to community programs.
Certainly, with the rise of youth criminal offences in Toronto, one can only hope that young people soon realize they need police officers to protect and prevent them from engaging in violent activities. Delinquency and youth violence in Canada has very serious repercussions and many times public interest is maintained only when problems warrant bold headlines. Communities, in partnership with the Police can prevent delinquency by having a stronger presence at community organizations, preserving a strong cultural identity in line with Canadian values, and social harmony between communities and their local Police departments. There is only one way to reduce youth crime and delinquency, and that is by continuing to conduct proactive and preventive community policing.