Editor’s note: How does a teenager in a major metropolitan North American city come to embrace social media in the fight against crime? This is the story of one such kid who learned from one police officer the true value of creating relationships with technology and how one person can, in turn, use his own voice to spread messages of public safety, responsibility, and what it means to be a participatory citizen. Nicholas Maharaj was recently named the Toronto Crime Stoppers Student of the Year.

Nicholas Maharaj, doing it his way

With the use of social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, millions of people can connect to each other across the world. You can keep in touch with friends, share your innermost thoughts with your contacts, or change the world, one update or Tweet at a time.

Back in November 2009, Police Constable Scott Mills, who was then serving as Crime Stoppers Youth Officer for the Toronto Police, made a presentation at North Albion Collegiate Institute. His message inspired me because one could sense that he was genuine. Afterward, I approached him about community opportunities, offering to lend a hand in engaging youths in whatever capacity I could.

At the time, I had little knowledge about social media. Constable Mills encouraged me to set-up Twitter account for outreach purposes and to widen my network into the community. Within a few days, I learned the intricacies of Twitter.

I myself did not know about Crime Stoppers nor its purpose. With some research, it became obvious that Crime Stoppers had a valuable purpose. I began attending community events with Constable Mills, video recording, tweeting, Facebooking and even editing. I entered a world where I saw how the police interacted with the community it served—it was positive and it was encouraging.

As my contact with the Toronto Police grew, I eventually met TAVIS coordinator, Sgt. Jeff Pearson whose TAVIS Facebook page was created so that the public could become familiar with the work that he and his TAVIS colleagues did. TAVIS, which stands for Toronto Anti-Intervention Strategy, is a specialized group of officers who are deployed into selected communities considered to be the most vulnerable to incidents of violent crimes. For its 2011 campaign, TAVIS will be present in the communities of Weston-Lawrence (12Division) and Brimley Eglinton (43Division).

Toronto Anti-Violence Intervention Strategy (TAVIS) means more officers and lots of community involvement in creating stronger neighbourhoods. Community mobilization is a way to bring the neighbourhood – residents, businesses, community and government services, and the police – together to plan and carry out activities that will resolve crime and safety issues.

A lot of youth question my association with crime prevention. I truly believe that this is the right thing to do. Public education about Crime Stoppers is the key to addressing the potential for future incidents such as school shootings, gun violence, gangs, and drugs. If greater numbers of people were aware of the program, we could be building a much more secure place to live.

I remember telling Carmen Villidar from Digital Journal, “If every police officer was as nice and reasonable like Mills, I think every youth would be engaged in programs such as BMX Riding, Legal Graffiti Art and removal and other Crime Stoppers events. Scott and my efforts to fight crime are the reasons why I want to be a Police Officer one day.”

The homicide of my former schoolmate, Courtney Facey, remains a daily and constant reminder of why I want to connect the public with Crime Stoppers. Any caring person must take a stand against crime and not let criminals get away with destroying what is good about our society.

Toronto Crime Stoppers Student of the Year

Receiving acknowledgement as the Crime Stoppers Student of the Year at the 15th Annual Chief of Police dinner in Toronto, doesn’t mean it’s over.

It’s only the beginning…

From Constable Scott Mills: Nicholas Maharaj is an example of “Zero to Hero”. Nicholas heard a Crime Stoppers presentation in his high school asking for help from youth to prevent and solve crime together using Crime Stoppers and relationships and technology through social media. He took up the officer’s request to assist, and has gone above and beyond with his dedication to community safety. Nicholas is the real deal, and a model for his peers and the adult world alike in his use of social media with purpose and process, in partnership with cops, for the ultimate payoff of a safer and happier world. The potential impact of one youth is seemingly endless. Nicholas is living proof of “Each One Teach One”.

Related stories from Toronto Sun:
May 10, 2011. Teen crime fighter recognized by Crime Stoppers
October 2, 2010. Teen crime fighter’s pal gunned down