Police adopt young-people policy for ages 10-24, focus on diversion and alternative justice

Edmonton Police Service Chief Dale McFee participates in a Coffee with the Chief media availability at EPS Headquarters in Edmonton, on Monday, May 6, 2019. Photo by Ian Kucerak/Postmedia ORG XMIT: POS1905061358542295Edmonton Police Service. Photo by Ian Kucerak /Postmedia, file

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The Edmonton Police Service is changing the way it interacts with young people to account for evidence their brains don’t fully mature until at least their mid-twenties.

The new four-year strategy aims to hold young people ages 10 to 24 accountable in ways that are appropriate for their developmental stage, divert them from the criminal justice system as often as possible, and reduce youth crime and victimization. EPS will create alternatives to custody programming, new system-wide protocols for how officers respond to young people, train officers on adolescent development, and create new offender management programs.

Michelle Fillion, EPS’ manager of youth services section, told the police commission on Thursday this recognizes that young people are overrepresented both as offenders and victims of crime, and their brain development.

“Police are often the first contact when young people are in times of crisis or trauma, and this interaction must be seen as an opportunity,” she said.


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“We will be utilizing diversion programming whenever possible in order to steer young people away from the formal justice system.”

Data in the EPS report shows young people ages 10-24 make up just under 18 per cent of Edmonton’s population but account for 31 per cent of violent crimes, 24 per cent of social disorder calls, and 26 per cent of property crimes.

Brains develop rapidly between the ages of 10 and 24 and adolescents are more prone to taking risks, are less focused on the future, and more influenced by peers, the EPS report notes.

Fillion said officers need training and guidance for dealing with young people and identifying vulnerable youth sooner.

“We must be consistent in our youth interactions, and we need protocols in place to make this happen. We need training and adolescent-focused policing practices so our frontline has new confidence in interacting, engaging and responding to young people.”

The policy also references a public health approach to policing and understanding that a young person’s well-being and behaviour are influenced by factors like race, gender, income, education, housing and employment.

Canada’s 2003 Youth Criminal Justice Act calls for only the most serious cases to proceed through the conventional justice system.

Policy has potential: criminologist

University of Alberta criminologist Temitope Oriola said the policy has potential but it depends how it’s put into practice — the training element is crucial.


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Focusing on diverting youth away from the criminal justice system may also have a major impact as research shows youth processed through the criminal justice system have the worst outcomes, he said.

“A lot of them, given the opportunity, would in fact not return to criminal activity, so we should be giving our youth the opportunity to turn their lives around, and again recognize that there are certain social conditions producing juvenile delinquents,” he said.

The policy also references officers using discretion with young people.

But Oriola said leniency isn’t applied equally and a clear policy is necessary. For instance, a young person whose parents are professionals may be able to convince authorities their child’s offence is an anomaly.

“But youth from poor socioeconomic backgrounds don’t get that level of the benefit of the doubt,” he said. “Codifying that, making it clear how these cases or issues will be treated is the kind of approach we should be taking.”

EPS’ strategy follows approaches used in other countries.




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