Toronto Police Chief Bill Blair says labelling troubled youth as “bad” kids sets them on the wrong path. Chief Blair spoke to Globe and Mail Editor-in-Chief John Stackhouse about how he thinks the police should deal with these young people.
Earlier this week, Mr. Stackhouse and other business and community leaders slept on the streets of Toronto as part of an event put on by youth shelter Covenant House, aimed at raising money and awareness for homeless youth.
There are some people who would think this sort of facility (Covenant House) harbours people who may be on the wrong side of the law.
I would say to those people, you don’t know these kids. These are kids that didn’t choose to be on the street. They were forced through circumstances, then they find themselves on the street. The overwhelming majority are good kids, good kids with great potential, but kids who need a hand and they’re our kids and I think that’s the great thing about the city of Toronto. It is a Toronto, I think, [that] has compassion and that cares about those kids that are at risk and recognizes their potential.
Most of these kids, when they see a cop car, do you think they are nervous?
Yeah, of course. We represent authority, but we also are out there to serve and protect. It’s always difficult for young people, who might find themselves in the very precarious circumstances of homelessness in our city, to look upon the police as a threat and intimidating, but our officers need to connect with those kids. You need to find a way to earn their trust and be worthy of their trust.
Some people, I have heard, call this sort of place “hug-a-thug.” What do you say to that?
I’ve spent my whole life dealing with bad guys, but one of the things I learned really early as a cop is that there is a lot more good guys than there are bad guys. … If you label a kid as a bad kid and you tell that kid he’s a thief and a liar and he’s going nowhere, he’ll live down to your expectations. If you instead, can get that kid on the right path, it can be a huge difference for him, a difference for our community, a difference for the outcomes for everybody so that type of investment is worth making.