Eleven years old may seem young to be recruited into a gang, but Calgary police officials say a pilot program is helping such kids learn to stay away from drugs, gangs and bullying.
“We’ve had kids here who’ve been targeted for gang recruitment. We’ve had kids here who probably know more about drugs than most adults do,” said Tara Robinson, executive director with the Calgary Police Foundation.
“We’ve had kids here who’ve had some serious bullying issues and when they’re 11 years old they’ve attempted suicide.”
The YouthLink Police School is a pilot project open to Grade 6 Calgary students taught by local officers, and includes aspects of what it takes to become a police officer, including a boot camp.
“These are kids from an at-risk community. They’re more at risk for gang violence, drugs, or bullying,” said Cst. Evan Nelson with the Calgary Police Service.
The police school began as a six-month pilot in January, welcoming a new group every two weeks.
Robinson said the program has proved so successful that it will launch permanently in September.
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“I think that it’s a great program because kids get to learn about a whole bunch of stuff, like online safety and healthy relationships,” said Taylor Graham, a Grade 6 student from Holy Trinity, participating in the program this week.
READ MORE: YouthLink Calgary Police Interpretive Centre opens on Oct. 2
Joe Nguyen, another student, said he’s learned how to protect himself.
“It’s been really fun and it’s only been two days.”
The five-day program is taught by Calgary police officers and also acts as a way to help some students overcome misconceptions.
“We have kids from Syria, Sudan, Somalia, and some Arab countries where police are not necessary looked at in a positive manner,” Nelson said.
However, by the end of the week, many leave with a different attitude.
“We get to expose to them to the fact that we’re not just giving out tickets or not just kicking in a door. We’re actually out talking to kids and the community,” Nelson said.
The program is free and includes bussing for schools that may not be able to afford it.