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UofGH students put community policing into practice on field placement

As students in the University of Guelph-Humber’s Justice Studies program, Shalena Degano and Inuri Samarasinghe have learned much about how community policing creates positive relationships between law enforcement and the civilian population. A recent field placement arranged through UofGH gave Degano and Samarasinghe the opportunity to see those values put into practice.

Inuri Samarasinghe and Shalena Degado

Samarasinghe and Degano recently completed their second placement with the York Regional Police’s Community Safety Village, an interactive, 10,000-square-foot educational facility where children learn in police, paramedic and fire education classrooms about topics including personal safety, traffic, and fire,

During their placement, Degano and Samarasinghe created a program from the ground-up that was aimed at teaching young girls (in grades 4 and 7) about self-esteem, self-empowerment and overall life skills. For the University of Guelph-Humber students as well, it was a valuable learning experience.

“This field placement has definitely given me a different perspective on policing in general,” Samarasinghe reflected. “Policing is so much more than just laws. I learned that policing, especially with York Regional Police, is always going to focus on outreach education for children. I have also learned that all three services – Fire, Paramedics and Police – all have a role to play in helping the next generation of leaders become as strong as they can be.

“Overall, I learned a lot more about myself because throughout this project, I had to really reflect on my own childhood and what influenced me to become the person I am today. It was a real eyeopener.”

Developing a program

Degano and Samarasinghe were in charge of researching the issues and topics that the program should focus on. They conducted focus groups with young girls from around York Region – which both students felt boosted their public-speaking and presentation skills – and used their findings to create appropriate activities and educational material. They also created a budget so they would have a realistic handle on how much funding their program would need.

Shalena Degado and Inuri Samarasinghe

They also took the opportunity to help the safety educators with their programs or pitch in at the summer camps whenever possible.

“I loved helping out with activities for the children,” Samarinsghe said. “It’s amazing how you can bond with a group of children by just helping out in one day. There was at least one student every week that would have come up to me to tell me a story or to ask a question or to say thank you for spending the day there. It just shows how much of an impact you can make.

“I also received a lot of advice from the officers that were helping out with the summer camps at the Safety Village. They also taught me life skills that I still follow by today.”

“It was really moving for me to actually be face-to-face with some of the people that we were creating the program for,” Degano agreed. “It really put everything into perspective for me.”

For both Degano and Samarasinghe, one of the main takeaways from the field placement experience – along with improved research and presentation skills as well as strong new professional connections – was a newly strengthened resolve to one day work in policing.

“Because of my recent placement with the York Regional Police, I am thinking about working with children a lot more in connection to the justice system. For now, I am going to continue on the path of becoming a police officer so I can be that role model in the eyes of children,” Samarasinghe said.

“My main requirement in finding a career is that I have to stay connected with the community and help them in any way I can.”