Youth are on the run in Red Deer.
Police have sent out 26 missing youth alerts since July 2015. In several cases, the missing were repeat offenders.
All have been located save for Nikki Taylor Yargeau, a 16-year-old who was reported missing on Feb. 9.
Red Deer RCMP Cpl. Karyn Kay said chronic missing and AWOL (absent without official leave) is high on the police’s radar.
Police hope to contribute to safer youth, as outlined in its annual policing plan, with the help of Const. Christina Graham, an officer dedicated to working with vulnerable youth.
It’s a new initiative and police are still working out the kinks.
Soon the youth will be able to check in with phone calls, text or email if they fail to show up at home or are reported missing.
Graham said the goal is to develop relationships with the youth in order to figure out why they are AWOL or missing.
“All the youth we deal with are vulnerable,” said Kay.
“They have things in their lives that are going on that makes them vulnerable. There are issues. There are bullying issues. There is cyber bullying, grades, not doing well at school. The expectations of parents.”
Eventually Graham will be the police officer that the youth see in the community and feel comfortable connecting and reaching out to in the community.
“I just want them to know they are not in trouble,” said Graham.
“I want them to know I just need to know they are safe. We are just concerned with their safety. Because they are vulnerable right? There’s so many different issues that they deal with. We want them to know the police is a safe place for them to come.”
Graham transferred to Red Deer from Surrey, B.C. in December.
She has a background working with youth in the schools.
Because Graham will be the go-to person for missing youth, the position will help free up the time of the general duty officers.
As soon as the police get a call that someone is missing or the caller feels they are missing, the wheels are put into motion to find the missing person.
There is no 24-hour rule. Several officers may work on one file.
The initiative will allow the Mounties to shift to a proactive approach from its existing reactive one.
“It will change the way what happens in Red Deer with our community, with our youth, the way they see the police,” said Kay.
“We are always going to have vulnerable kids in need. I think it will be the missing piece of the puzzle.”