The Lethbridge Police Service (LPS) is moving in a new direction when it comes to supporting youth.
“Our officers who were formerly school resource officers are now youth engagement officers,” said acting inspector of the field unit with Lethbridge Police Service Cameron Van Roon.
Earlier this year, the Community Engagement Unit conducted an assessment of the previous model of using school resource officers.
It was determined that they would now be called youth engagement officers (YEO) with the youth engagement unit (YEU).
“It’s still very focused on the schools, but we’re taking that extra step now to also look toward students who may not be actively in the schools that are in need of some help,” Van Roon explained.
Focused on providing outreach to youth both in and out of schools, YEOs are resources for early intervention, positive mentorship, and recommending support services.
As well, they effort to build positive relationships and keep young offenders out of the criminal justice system through diversionary programs.
“It takes a unique officer to understand on that continuum of policing where intervention and prevention fits in before there are those types of criminal behaviors,” said Anita Lethbridge-Gross. “They’re instrumental in serving in that need.”
Lethbridge-Gross, the coordinator of counselling and wellness at the Holy Spirit Catholic School Division, said the partnership with police has always been important in keeping the schools safe.
“Alongside that, an even more important piece are those relationships that our officers have with students, with parents, with families.
“Regardless of a name change, I think it’s a natural evolution. It’s needed, it’s embraced, and very much supported.”
Van Roon said the youth engagement officers will work all year, as opposed to the previous format where they would be assigned to different units
“With the school resource program, oftentimes the officers were being taken when there’s no longer school in session, and put back on a patrol team or different places,” he explained.
“We’re looking to have our youth engagement officers continue through the summer, through holiday times, in this role because that way we’re not starting fresh again with students whenever a new school year starts.”
This new direction will also see partnerships with non-school organizations, including Youth Justice Committee, Children and Family Services, and various youth homes.