Police: Children in youth clubs not part of school violence

The content originally appeared on: Trinidad and Tobago Newsday

ACP Collis Hazel. –

Acting Assistant Commissioner of Police Collis Hazel has said children who take part in after-school activities, like the Police Youth Club, are less likely to be involved in school violence.

In a phone conversation with Newsday on Friday, Hazel, who is in charge of specialised support and community-oriented services in the police, said children with a lack of supervision are more likely to take part in criminal behaviour during and after school.

“The school is a microcosm of society. Utilising NGOs like the police youth club, (children) can have more activities to make productive use of their time.

“Children in police youth clubs don’t engage in that behaviour. The difference is in the upbringing. The school violence we are seeing is happening with (students) who lack parental and social support in their home structure. You find a difference in behaviour coming from a lack of supervision.”

Hazel said lack of access to education can lead to delinquency.

“Students scoring under 30 per cent in exams, yet still making it into the school system, have problems coping academically.

“However, what we have been doing is exposing them to other programmes where they can work with their hands, (such as) drawing, cycling and other sports and the arts.”

He said some of the students whom officers have mentored through the programme have received sport scholarships. One young man, he said, has recently won a scholarship to the University of Chicago.

“He wasn’t good in academics but he was good at football, so we helped shape that.”

Hazel said the police youth clubs also offer a range of other programmes, varying from centre to centre, including etiquette training, computer skills and agriculture. Volunteers also teach members about types of discipline other than corporal punishment.

The Roxborough centre where Hazel volunteers in Tobago is offering a one-day session in baking. He said the centre focuses on passing on traditional skills from the elders and also teaches young people how to care for their elders.

“During covid19, we had a project to care for elderly residents. Some children were home alone with their grandparents, (so) we taught them how to care for them.”

There are 94 centres, where police officers volunteer their time to participate in the mentorship programme. Hazel said the programme is geared toward shaping the character of young people, focusing on sustainable livelihood and instilling good moral values.

He said the centres act as a safe space for children, especially in marginalised communities prone to gang and school violence.

However, Hazel was disappointed at what he saw as the public and media attention to negative headlines as opposed to community-based projects.

“We need more exposure to positive community-engagement initiatives. People don’t know about them. People need to know what youth organisations are doing.”

He said on Friday there was a meeting between the police and the Ministry of Social Development to collaborate on early intervention awareness caravans throughout various communities in the near future to help promote the programmes available to help reduce incidents of school violence.

“We need to know what resources are available and communicate with each other better on them. We need to know how to do things the right way to keep youth out of a life of crime.

“We identified resources the state has for social intervention. They are there but people aren’t aware. We can align with (the ministry) as a stakeholder group to bring relief to the citizenry.”

He said the ministry highlighted initiatives it offers, including social welfare, ageing and parenting programmes.