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OPP responds to weapons call at Friday night youth dance

- Council asks GECDSB to resume VIP program for grade six students -

by Sylene Argent

Just after 9pm on Friday, May 13, officers from the Essex Detachment of the Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) responded to a report of a weapon at a grade school dance at the Essex Centre Sports Complex.

  The Optimist Club of Essex hosted the dance for students in grades five through eight.

  In a statement from the OPP, it notes once officers arrived on scene, a young person, who matched the description in the report, was located.

  The incident remains under investigation.

  At the Essex Council meeting Monday evening, Essex Mayor Richard Meloche said he was “shocked and appalled to hear about the destructive behaviour demonstrated by a select group of kids causing physical and mental harm to others, including staff. This type of behaviour is unacceptable. It is not only harmful and dangerous, but it also places an unnecessary burden on our hard-working police force.”

  He said he has spoken with Staff Sergeant Jen Wilson about the incident on the weekend and the Town is working closely with the OPP to investigate the incident and will provide full cooperation in the investigation.

  Details of the incident cannot be discussed publicly at this time as this case is still under investigation, he said.

  “In light of this occurrence, Council would like to remind all citizens that the Town of Essex has zero tolerance for violence and vandalism. Everyone should feel safe, protected, and accepted in our community,” Meloche stated.

  Councillor Sherry Bondy took to social media to state she was “dismayed to read about, and get tagged in, the events of the youth Optimist dance...This type of behaviour is completely unacceptable. Our children should feel safe when they go out to events and not get terrorized.”

  A social media post claimed the weapon was an airsoft gun.

Anyone who witnessed the incident or has any information is asked to contact the OPP immediately, by calling the OPP at 1-888-310-1122, or contact Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-8477 (TIPS) or www.catchcrooks.com to forward information anonymously.

  At the Essex Council meeting Monday evening, Councillor Kim Verbeek, who is also the Chairperson of the Essex Police Services Board, put forward a Notice of Motion that Council send a letter to the school boards, requesting the OPP be invited and allowed to resume the Values, Influences, and Peers (VIP) program in area grades schools.

  The VIP program teaches grade six students about cyberbullying, healthy relationships, bullying, internet safety, addictions, and drugs.

  As the Notice of Motion was minor and urgent in nature, Council moved to allow the Notice of Motion be discussed Monday evening, instead of waiting until the next meeting.

  “It just gives us, as Council, the opportunity to just take one small step towards addressing the increase in vandalism we are experiencing and the bullying incidents we have been having,” Verbeek said.

  Resuming the OPP’s VIP program at local schools, which was halted due to the pandemic, has been discussed at the Essex Police Services Board meetings and she learned the GECDSB is just now in discussions about whether or not they are going to bring back the programs that were paused, due to COVID.

  She hopes, with Council’s endorsement, the GECDSB will invite the OPP back in to teach the important program.

  “I, for one, find that we have been experiencing all of these increases in bullying and vandalism and that, and we haven’t been running this VIP program. I am not saying it is going to be the end all, be all, and the answer, but it is showing one small step that we are trying, pulling out all stops to address the issues,” she said.

  The OPP, she added, is ready to get back into the schools with the VIP program.  

  Councillor Morley Bowman asked the letter also be circulated to area municipalities in Essex County.  

  Outside the meeting, Verbeek said it has been a few years since police officers have been in the school to teach the program.

  She said Essex Council, the Optimist Club, the OPP, the schools, parents, and the youth involved need to come together. Actions are required to ensure nothing like the incident ever happens again.

  “We have to address it. We can’t act like there hasn’t been a change in the level of vandalism and bullying and such,” Verbeek added. “We have to look for positive solutions to prevent the kids from coming to a point where they are acting like this.”