A new “Charter of Commitments and Principles” was implemented in Castlegar last week, which sees the RCMP team up with community groups to improve drug and alcohol awareness for youth.
“If kids feel cared about by their parents and their community and school … they have a good possibility of succeeding in life,” Cpl. Marty Kooiman with the Drugs and Organized Crime Awareness Service said.
As one of 14 co-ordinators across the province with the service, Kooiman said they began talking with researchers at Simon Fraser University and the University of British Columbia about how they could improve their programs.
“We went about trying to strategize how to give kids these assets that they may be lacking in certain areas,” he said. “We, as a section, said, ‘well how can we support our schools and our community and the parents?’ So we started saying, ‘what are we doing right now?’”
He said although there are programs in the schools right now, social development of children is the first thing to fall off the plate when detachments get busy.
“Our primary job function … is to answer calls for service,” he said. “We hope that changes but right now that’s what our primary jobs are as it stands.”
A large part of the schools program is having a police presence in each school, Kooiman said.
“That’s when kids start to see that there are people in their community to keep them safe.”
The RCMP’s education program starts in Grade 4 with a video series featuring a character named Retro Bill.
“It’s a safety message of some sort whether it be stranger danger or how to cross the street,” Kooiman explained.
The DARE (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) program is the first taste of drug-resistance programs in the school, which starts in Grade 5.
“The DARE program is one of the cornerstones of what the police do,” Kooiman said. It teaches kids to make healthy choices regarding tobacco, marijuana and alcohol.
“Home Grown Cash” is a program that Grade 6 students receive, which takes them to Kootenay Savings where they learn the cost of substance abuse. Grade 7 students will be part of the Interact Club Role Model program, set to start next year.
“We know we need to start talking about healthy relationships in Grade 6 or 7,” Kooiman said, explaining there are already issues surrounding sex and alcohol in Grade 8 when Castlegar kids start high school, which is when kids participate in the “Keep It Wise” program.
Grade 9 is when students have a conversation about drinking and driving with RCMP.
“It just hammers home, in Grade 9, they’re about to get their licences in Grade 10,” he said. “It’s another message, we’re out there, we care about you, we don’t want you to make a bad decision.”
The “Birthday Party” program is offered in Grade 9 as well, where it’s explained to students why there is a legal age and what can happen if you start using substances before you’re of age.
The final initiative is the “full potential award” given to a graduating student in Grade 12. The RCMP are involved with the award, presented by Freedom Quest, which provides a student that has overcome obstacles in their life with a scholarship to go to pursue a post-secondary education.
“Our section has found it in research saying we need to really stage off the onset of first use,” he said. “Our primary goal is to statistically reduce first-time drugs and alcohol to kids in Grades 8 to 12.”
Kooiman said research shows if a young person in their early formative years tries a substance or starts using a substance they’re 50 per cent more apt to form addictive qualities later in life. For example, he said, if a child starts drinking when they’re 12 they’re more likely to become an alcoholic later in life.
“In order to be successful with what we’ve coined as a ‘community education prevention continuum’ (CEPC) we need to be in the school every year,” Kooiman said.
“We started partnering with all these community people to find new and innovative ways to build these assets [in kids].”
Kooiman said he developed CEPC to ensure commitment from community partners that there will be sustainable long-term planning.
Most of the programs in schools have been signed on 100 per cent for the next three years, Kooiman said.
Groups that have signed on include School District 20, Kinnaird Elementary, Stanley Humphries Secondary School, City of Castlegar, Columbia Basin Trust and Kootenay Family Place, with more to come.
“All these stakeholders are basically committed to supporting CEPC,” he said.
The next step is to implement CEPC in other West Kootenay communities.
“I really believe in this,” Kooiman said. “I believe in a lot of ways policing goes in a big circle.”