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Police say youth soccer program helps keep kids on the straight and narrow

Ottawa Police say their anti-gang and crime reduction strategies are working well at the community level, where officers are working with kids in schools and at community centres, steering them away from a life of crime.

One case that sees officers work closely with at-risk youth is a fundamentals of soccer program that has been running since 2008.

On the streets he's Duty Inspector John Medeiros, but in the W.E. Gowling School gym, dressing down his uniform with running shoes he's simply coach.

This particular program runs during the school year. Every Friday, right after school around 20 kids come to play. They're taught the fundamentals of the sport and are provided with soccer balls to kick around.

The idea is to keep the kids out of trouble and give them some positive reinforcement.

"Research would suggest that some of the risk factors for young children, or adolescents are the after school hours and they don't really have, sort of a structured activity to take part in," Medeiros told CFRA. "This gives the kids a place to go every Friday after school. I can tell you they look forward to it."

Some of the kids in this program can't afford to play soccer. Others are exposed to violence and Medeiros said this not only gives them something to do and somewhere to be, but fosters lasting relationships.

"They may have had or have seen some experiences about police in the past and may have some ideas or be afraid of police and they just get to see us as individuals who like soccer too, so it's a really nice thing to be able to do with the kids," he said.

Police have run 12 soccer camps for at-risk youth since the program launched in 2008 and Medeiros said it's really made an impact in the community.

"As police officers we really enjoy it," he said. "There's been something like 70, 80 of my colleagues that have volunteered their time over the years to come and take part in the mentoring, some of them several times."

"Most of them really enjoy it and so do the kids," he said.

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