Officer John Jasmins on the search for a missing teen. (Photo courtesy: Keeping Canada Safe)
6:30 am, September 8, North Delta Police Station. Youth Liaison Officer John Jasmins checks his voicemail. Through the speaker, an automated voice says, “Call received, 2:38 am.” This can’t be good. A woman’s voice, distressed and traumatized, comes through the line. She’s tearful and very angry. John picks up the phone to listen to her message.
As a story producer on Keeping Canada Safe, I’ve come with our director and cameraman to meet John Jasmins for a preproduction visit.
John works with kids whose lives are precarious – many are involved with drugs, prostitution, or violence. Some of his clients have participated in assaults with knives, bear spray, and blunt objects. One is alleged to have shot another youth with a pellet gun at close range because the victim wouldn’t give him a slurpee – his victim required plastic surgery. Another three young men, associated with the informal gang Lo Block Brother’s Keeper, assaulted a kid so badly that he almost died.
All of this is happening in Delta, a middle-class suburb south of Vancouver. It neighbours Surrey, which had 47 drug-related shootings from January to August of 2016. The border between Surrey and North Delta is fluid, and the violence and gang activity spills over.
"John is definitely a “real cop,” though it might be easy to mistake him for a social worker, with the kind of direct involvement he has with his clients."
John was part of the gang unit prior to becoming a youth officer. It was frustrating at times. When we first spoke, John told me “I might save a guy’s life one week, and a week later he may shoot two other people or end up dead himself.” John is keenly aware that every gang member was once a kid. As a youth officer, John reaches young men and women before they get entrenched in a criminal lifestyle and graduate to larger-scale crime.
John returns the late-night distress call from the woman. We hop in the car to travel to the caller’s home, and John fills us in. The woman’s teenaged daughter was allegedly sexually assaulted by a visitor to their home the night before. Patrol officers had attended the call during the night, but the mom reached out to John because he has worked with her daughter in the past.
"I get a glimpse of the astonishing degree of empathy and commitment that John brings to his job." (Photo courtesy: Keeping Canada Safe)
The crew and I wait in the car while John goes into the townhouse where the woman lives. I note John’s bullet-proof vest on the rear deck of his vehicle. John is definitely a “real cop,” though it might be easy to mistake him for a social worker, with the kind of direct involvement he has with his clients. In his first two years in this job, John allowed his clients to call him 24/7; now, he limits calls to 10 p.m., well after his official end-of-shift.
I’m about to get a glimpse of the astonishing degree of empathy and commitment that John brings to his job.
When John emerges from the townhouse, he tells us the girl is sleeping and that he has spoken to her mother about pressing charges against the assailant. However, John’s next task in assisting the family is a more immediate one – they have no food in the house, so we head to Denny’s, where John picks up three breakfasts to go – for the mother, her daughter, and a friend who had crashed at their place that night.
The friend – whom I’ll call Emma – is a girl John has spoken of many times. She’s fifteen, the same age as my own daughter. Emma lives at a Ministry of Child and Family Services group home, and over the summer of 2016, she repeatedly went missing for days at a time. As a drug user, Emma would turn tricks to support her habit and sleep on the streets or in a homeless camp. When Emma would disappear, John would go looking for her, often finding her on the strip in Whalley or at known crack houses. He’d talk to Emma, get her a meal, and arrange for her transport back to the group home.
"It’s not even 8:00 am. I’m starting to think that John should be wearing tights and a cape."
We pull away from Denny’s with three breakfasts to-go. At an intersection, two women are having car trouble. John jumps out of his car to assist them, and then recruits our director and cameraman to help him push the women’s car to the side of the road. After John ensures that help is on the way from BCAA, we’re off to pick up milk, and then back to the townhouse to deliver provisions.
It’s not even 8:00 am. I’m starting to think that John should be wearing tights and a cape.
As the first youth liaison officer in Delta, John has defined the position and set a high standard of care. Though many of the kids he works with are still struggling to find their way, his interventions in their lives are making a tremendous difference.
John introduced me to Alex, an 18-year-old who spent a month in jail in 2015. Alex started using a variety of drugs in Grade 8 when his family was going through a painful divorce; his drug use lead to violence and crime. When Alex was in jail, he saw that his actions were having significant emotional consequences for his mom and his little brother. He knew he had to turn things around for himself and for the sake of his family. With John’s help, he entered Changes, an alternative school program that accommodates up to 10 students a year. The Changes team includes a teacher, an educational assistant, and two youth workers; they work closely with the youth liaison officers and with probation officers.
Alex graduated in June of 2016. Today he shares a place with his older brother and works full time as a carpenter’s assistant. Alex stays in touch with John and with his mentors at Changes.
During the filming
September 9, our crew films with John. He has a warrant for the arrest of a youth. The young man (whom I’ll call Tyler) had frequent police contact; he would regularly disappear from his family home, to go on drug and alcohol binges. John says, “Being a police officer, arrest is one of the tools available to me. If we charge the kids, judges can order curfews, and if the youth is convicted, the judge can order drug and alcohol treatment.” Tyler’s parents know that John has a warrant and will be arresting their son. They’re hoping it will be the beginning of positive change for their son. But John will need to find Tyler first – and that will not prove to be easy. Tune in to Keeping Canada Safe to see how John’s search unfolds.
After the filming
Since we filmed with John, he came to the end of his three-year term as a Youth Liaison Officer. Though he is back on regular patrol, he keeps in touch with his clients, and drops in regularly to the Changes program.
Emma, who used to run away from her group home, has been stable since September, with no further breaches of her probation or police contacts. The young girl who was assaulted the night before my visit to John is attending school regularly and taking part in family counselling. Charges were laid against her assailant and the case is currently before the courts.
The Delta Police Service currently has two Youth Liaison Officers on the force – one full-time and one part-time. They provide support to dozens of youth and their families, in addition to attending other police calls involving youth.
Marlene Rodgers, Story Producer
Marlene Rodgers is a writer, producer, and story editor based in Vancouver. She has worked in feature film, documentary and factual television. Marlene spent a number of years as a development executive at Telefilm, the Ontario Media Development Corporation and the CBC, and she has taught screenwriting at institutions such as the Canadian Film Centre, the National Screen Institute and Simon Fraser University. Her recent credits include Keeping Canada Alive, and she was thrilled to join the team of Keeping Canada Safe as a senior story producer, as well as story editor.
Watch Keeping Canada Safe on Thursdays at 9/9:30 NT or online.