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NEWS RELEASE · 31st August 2010
Helping prevent a school shooting tragedy. Getting assistance for a suicidal teen. Stopping an organized crime ring from establishing a dial-a-dope operation. There’s a lot resting on the shoulders of today’s police school liaison officers.

That’s why the RCMP is launching a new national training program for its newly designated Youth Officers, with the first course starting tomorrow in Coquitlam, oversubscribed with 35 police officers from across the Lower Mainland.

“The course is very operationally based, with highly qualified instructors to give our police officers tools they need to work with high risk kids,” says Sergeant Frank Paulicelli, head of ‘E’ Division’s Youth Services. “For example, we’re bringing in our interview expert from Major Crimes to teach officers how to appropriately interview youths with Attention Deficit Disorder or Fetal Alcohol Syndrome.”

Youth Officers will also learn about school-based threat risk assessment protocol. The protocol was developed after the Columbine and Taber shootings, in conjunction with the Canadian Centre for Threat Assessment, as well as the FBI and Secret Service.

For the RCMP it’s a departure from the previous role of school liaison officers, who focused more on talks on drug prevention, or walking the school hallways, making themselves available to teens.

Until now there was no official training for those officers, and no recognized protocol for them to follow. For example, when an officer is aware that an at-risk student’s father was arrested last night, could he or she inform the school, or would that violate the student’s privacy? And what are the guidelines when a school wants to reach out to the police to let them know a youth potentially facing charges was also suicidal?

“One of the most important elements of the Youth Officer Training program is the creation of a recognized protocol for working in partnership with youth service providers, such as schools” says Sgt. Paulicelli.

Under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, police are permitted to exchange information with schools for the safety and rehabilitation of youth. “Through this protocol we can go beyond the ‘duty to warn’ and continue to benefit the youth over the long term,” says Sgt. Paulicelli. And the protocol creates a comfort margin for both police and schools. He points out that schools will continue to lead case management for the students.

Youth Officers will be expected to take a significant operational role, and the training prepares them for this.

“We’ve brought in respected experts from mental health and addictions, and we’ll also be focusing on depression and suicide,” says Sgt. Paulicelli.

“And while we want Youth Officers to continue to do drug prevention work, we also want them to be conversant with the operating procedures of current gangs or Dial-A-Dope businesses so they can talk to students about the techniques used to recruit new members or dealers.”

Sgt. Paulicelli thinks the value of the new Youth Officers will be seen in how they make better use of certain provisions of the Youth Criminal Justice Act. The act allows police officers to take four steps when dealing with youth – no action, warn, refer to agency or charge. Sgt. Paulicelli hopes with a better understanding of the roles of other agencies, Youth Officers will be better equipped to do more referrals, and in a more timely manner – preventing youths from being caught up in a cycle of crime.

“We expect the course and instructors may change, to reflect what’s happening with youths. But we think the partnerships and connections coming out of this program are going to be thing that ultimately is going to make the key difference. Because we’re all after the same thing – we all want to help these kids,” says Sgt. Paulicelli.

The RCMP rolls out its new Youth Officer Training program in its Lower Mainland District in Coquitlam August 31-Sept. 2. In Prince George the course runs Sept. 14-16; Kelowna Sept. 28-30 and Victoria Oct. 13-15. The course is expected to be expanded to five days next year.