By Surbhi Gogia
Police officers are not always fiery and questioning to enforce law and protect people’s lives. They can win hearts and even most difficult situations by a simple act of love and understanding. Constable Michael Bal, a Vancouver Police officer has recently set an example. From coaching youth about life skills to saving lives of the emotionally disturbed people who are at the verge committing suicide, Bal’s compassion for people has put him on the chart of world’s top law enforcement officers.
Bal was recently been chosen as one of the top 40 under 40 law enforcement professionals in the world. The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) annual award recognizes candidates who exemplify leadership and commitment to their profession.
Bal who is 29 years, is not just the only South Asian origin officer but also the youngest to make it to this list of elite. At this young age, he has demonstrated that age is just a number, it has nothing to do with the maturity that one needs to rescue people out of their emotional crisis. He has worked in VPD on patrol, as a public negotiator and as an award winning crisis negotiator that includes dealing with people who may be in crises — at the point of taking their lives whether standing on the other side of the bridge or building or any other circumstances.
“Speaking to people during times of crisis can be really difficult,” Bal says. Although police officers are trained to negotiate. But he mastered this at a very young age and main reason he points out is because of the compassion. “People come from various walks of life with different experiences. To be able to listen to them, understand their situation and give them a shoulder to lean on, makes a difference.”
He joined VPD eight years ago. “In his short eight years with the VPD, Constable Michael Bal has an impressive list of accomplishments,” mentioned the official release.
Currently he works as a school liaison officer with VPD where he has launched several initiatives aimed at helping teens in the community deal with their challenges and become happier and healthier individuals. He is presently assigned to David Thompson Secondary and eight elementary schools, which includes over 2,000 students.
“Michael’s leadership and passion has been nothing less than inspirational,” says Inspector Howard Tran of the VPD Youth Services Section. “He is truly making a difference in his community and beyond.” In July 2016, Constable Bal was one of two Canadians selected by the US State Department to be an International Youth Ambassador mentor to 16 kids, aged 15 to 18, who are leaders in their communities across Canada. The group travelled to Ottawa, New York, and Washington over three weeks, gaining a deeper knowledge of civic engagement, community service, leadership, and social inclusion. Constable Bal continues to mentor the group as they implement projects in their own communities.
In an interview with Desi Today, Constable Bal, talks about his several initiatives for the youth and the inspirations in his life that played role in making him one of the top cop.
Q) Constable Bal, congratulations for making it to the Top 40 Under 40 list of law enforcement officers. It is a proud moment for Canada especially the South Asian community. How do you feel?
A) I am so proud to represent the community. There are a lot of South Asian Punjabi policemen around Lower Mainland making a difference in the society and I am proud to be part of that group. There is obviously huge support from the Vancouver Police Department who put me in this position and ton of support from senior police officers in VPD who mentored me and coached me to be in the position to receive this award. I am certainly very grateful to all of them. But first and foremost I would like to thank our Deputy Chief Constable Steve Rai, who has been a leader in VPD and in our community for several years, paving a way for so many young South Asians to look ahead and follow his lead. Officers like him have really coached and mentored us. I would also like to thank Cst. Sky Thouli, Cst. Jos Jassal, Cst. Sukhi Sunger and Cst. Sunny Thiara for their support.
Q) Do you think more South Asian Punjabi kids are now keen to join the police force?
A) Certainly more South Asians are involved in policing now and they have become inspiration for the youth. After all it is a great profession — an occupation where South Asians can definitely thrive in. I always suggest the youth to volunteer with community policing. Even if you don’t want to be a police officer, the skills that you gain during volunteering will go a long way once you pursue other professions like — teaching, nursing, engineering.
Q) What are some of the skills that young people take away when they Volunteer with community policing?
A) You develop skills like community building, leadership, communication skills that can be used across professions.
Q) Please tell us something about your family and childhood Days? What inspired you to be a police officer?
A) My family is from Hong Kong with origins from Punjab. My father was Royal Hong Kong police officer. I did some of my schooling in Hong Kong and rest in Vancouver. I attended SFU for bachelors degree in political science and criminology. My father taught me about the impact an officer can have on a community and struggling youth. His experience and some of the stories he shared with us, really impacted me deeply to get into policing.
Also another person instrumental in my desire to become a police officer was my school liaison officer Rick Schaaf. He was the one who shared with us experience of being a part of a police department. He was always someone with whom you can share your issues as a young person. Also I always enjoyed volunteering along with challenges that helped me get into this profession.
Q) After joining VPD, you worked on patrol and also as a Public Order negotiator and an award winning crisis negotiator. Please tell us something about those roles?
A) A public order negotiator is a point person to speak to people attending large scale events like a demonstration or a protest. A crisis negotiator is someone who deals with people who are in crisis for example at the verge of taking their lives. I listen to them. I come across a lot of people who have really stayed with me during the negotiations and come out of the crisis — something I am really proud of.
Q) How did you master this mature skill at such a young age?
A) A lot of it has to do with compassion and ability to be able to listen. People come from various walks of life with different experiences. To be able to listen and understand them. Offer them a shoulder to lean on, in the time of crisis is what makes a difference.
Q) Now you are a school liaison officer. What is your role on this position?
A) Currently I am with David Thomson and various other schools. My primary role is to make sure that school has a safe environment to learn. At the same time I am a person at the school with whom students can speak about their issues. If something is concerning them at home or in the community, they can come and chat with me.
Q) You have launched so many initiatives in school that have become successful and even have been adopted by others school. What makes you launch a particular project?
A) I am a big supporter of giving youth a platform to discover what they really want to do. For example, in our community a lot of young people have drive to volunteer and serve the community but they might not have the platform. So my objective always is to give youth the opportunity.
In 2016 we launched Project Jawani, along with Detective Constable Steve Kingra. The project has South Asian youths gather for an open discussion about the issues they are facing. The social, academic, and professional goals of participants are developed through community speakers and mentors who have found success in their fields like journalism, teaching, nursing etc.
Q) What, according to you, is one of the major issues ailing the South Asian youth these days that is discussed during these platforms?
A) Much like any other youth of today, one of their major issues is a concern around social media. Being able to really navigate different barriers that come with social media and to ensure that digital footprints they leave will not affect them in future, is what they really need to be careful about. A good link for education around social media awareness would be http://www.cybersafebc.ca/. Also I would also recommend your readers to visit vpd.cafor further information on social media awareness.
Q) What are some of the other youth driven initiatives, that you are working on?
A) Project Breakawayis to bring together high school students of different ethnicities, religious beliefs, athletic abilities, and life challenges. The group plays floor hockey regularly with police officers, who provide mentorship and positive reinforcement.
Two other sports related programs are: Rick Schaaf Memorial Cup in honour of my high school Liaison officer, who passed away after battling cancer. The annual soccer games takes place between David Thompson and John Oliver high schools, and a player from each team receives a scholarship.
Another one is Paul Sanghera Memorial Tournament, an annual secondary school soccer tournament in honour of Paul Sanghera, a VPD officer killed in the line of duty in 1982.
We have also teamed up with mental health professionals to develop the Mental Wellness Peer-to-Peer Support Group . Students who were having issues with their mental health, along with students who had an interest in creating awareness and removing the stigma of mental health, joined this inclusive and supportive group. Participants are given education and training before delivering interactive presentations to other students at both the elementary and high school levels. The program was so successful, it is now being expanded across the entire Vancouver School District.
Q) What do you have to say about South Asian kids getting into gangs and drugs?
A) Much like other communities our community does face this issue. But there are a lot of youth who are fighting that stereotype now and doing fantastic things that might not be noticed by the general public.
Q) What is your message to the community?
A) Strive to really live a balanced life which means making sure to move forward and at the same time have a connection with family, school and at home.