Youth group calls for action from Edmonton Police Commission
A group of youth issued a call to action Thursday for the Edmonton Police Commission in the hopes that more diverse voices, including those of young people, will be heard.
“Young people have the solutions to community problems … I hope that the powers-that-be take a moment to listen and to take in what the youth are saying,” said Maigan van der Giessen, lead facilitator with the John Humphrey Centre for Peace and Human Rights Youth Action Project on Justice.
The group has been meeting since September 2016, speaking with police officers and community organizations to better understand barriers to justice.
After speaking with officers about the job’s mental toll, the youth action project identified ongoing mental health support as critical to maintaining officers’ ability to make good decisions.
“As an authority figure, vulnerability is really hard to show. We want our police officers to be cared for. When they are mentally healthy and happy, they are able to make the right choices and make the right decisions,” said Tharsini Sivananthajothy, a project member who was concerned officers might not be reaching out for the help offered.
“They are saying we want healthy police officers so they interact better with the community, and I think that’s a great recommendation,” said police Chief Rod Knecht, adding the force has already put resources into improving access to mental health for officers and their families.
The youth action project called for education on legal rights and responsibilities to be added to the curriculum, empowering youth to be advocates for themselves.
The group also called for the government of Alberta to affirm its commitment to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s calls to action, specifically addressing the over-representation of aboriginal people in custody.
The group also wanted this expanded to other over-represented racial communities.
Part of addressing these biases, members suggested, is improving inclusion in all levels of policing, from members on the street to the Edmonton Police Commission itself.
“The Edmonton Police Service still needs to work with different communities and different individuals of different backgrounds to ensure that everyone is represented and everyone gets the rights and services that they deserve,” said project member Mohamed Rahall.
Knecht largely agreed with the recommendations.
“We want diversity in gender, in religion, in culture, in background, old, young, we want a diverse police service because that is the community we police. As diverse as we can be, it helps us do the job better,” said Knecht.