Last week, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Lacombe & District wrapped up their sixth annual Kids N’ Kops camp.
Kids N’ Kops is a program that partners young campers with members of local law enforcement agencies. Campers learn about policing by patrolling with these members and even participating in mock scenarios that are not unlike situations police and bylaw officers face every day.
Crystal Zens, executive director for Big Brothers Big Sisters of Lacombe & District, said that she knows of other Kids N’ Kops program, but none as successful or in-depth as Lacombe’s.
“The kids live with police,” said Zens, who started the Kids N’ Kops program with her husband Bryan, a constable with the Lacombe Police Service.
Crystal said the camp has grown more popular and more successful with each year and this summer was no exception.
She added that, because of the camp’s popularity, Big Brothers Big Sisters does not take repeat campers for the program. However, that doesn’t stop people from trying.
“The kids beg to come back every year,” said Crystal. “Even though we tell them they graduate and they don’t come back I always get 24 phone calls.”
Many of the kids who are involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters come from difficult backgrounds.
“For them to be mentored by police and befriended by them is a huge, huge experience,” said Crystal.
Bryan, who views the camp from the perspective of the officers involved, said the program also has great benefits from their side.
“I think for me, it’s to put a human face on policing,” said Bryan. He went on to say that policing, out of necessity, sometimes becomes robotic.
Officers are stuck in a car going from one call to the next without being able to connect with their communities.
Bryan said that the Kids N’ Kops camp works to correct that image. “Police members are not machines, they are human beings,” said Bryan.
He added that it gives children an opportunity to see some situations from a different perspective, the way police do.
“They are in our boots.”
Chief Steve Murray of the Lacombe Police Service said he sees the Kids N’ Kops camp as a great example of the Lacombe Police Service motto, ‘Community Partnership.’
He added that partnerships like these build a promising future for the community’s young people.
“How do you get a better example of community partnership than this?” said Murray. “I think this is us at our core. This is the cornerstone of what we do.”
Staff Sgt. Ken Morrison, detachment commander for Blackfalds RCMP, agreed that the camp builds young people up.
He said the program promotes respect between police officers and young people and may even spark interest in a career path sometime later in life.
“Ideally we would like to see them come into the police force down the road,” said Morrison.
Murray, Morrison and Bryan added that the camp has promoted partnerships between the different agencies and helps develop relationships between members, making it easier to work together when they are actually responding to incidents.
“It’s been fantastic for us to have that collaboration to work together,” said Bryan.
Mayor of Lacombe Steve Christie also commented on the benefits of such partnerships, saying it is a good thing for the community to see and helps make stronger, safer communities.
“That does nothing but make the community safer.”
Christie also stressed how important it is for the community to know that the officers who participate in Kids N’ Kops are volunteering their own time.
“They are coming in because they want to, because they want to be a part of their community,” said Christie.
He added this shows that police officers, sheriffs and bylaw officers really do care about the communities they serve.
This year’s camp was, as usual, full with 24 campers who were partnered with members of local bylaw enforcement, the sheriffs department, Lacombe Police Service and Blackfalds RCMP.
Bryan said that officer involvement varies throughout the week of the camp depending on how many bodies each of the agencies involved can spare on a given day, but those agencies have always been greatly supportive of the program.
Crystal commended all the volunteers who stepped up to help make the event a memorable one for all involved.
Bryan also thanked the public, who largely funds the Kids N’ Kops program through donations collected at a Christmas checkstop, and corporate sponsors for their support as well.