Positive Ticketing for Youth

Positive Ticket examplesImagine cops catching kids for positive behavior? It totally goes against the old paradigm of the reactive, post incident, corrective model we currently operate within. Reward the positive and your return on investment will be more positive action from a young person.

“This is not rocket science – we generally and police officers specifically, just don’t reward and celebrate the positive of our youth enough,” says Chief Officer Ward of the South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority Police Service.

On a strong hunch that intense, positive early intervention might reap long term benefits with youth, Clapham developed the notion of positive ticketing while in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Superintendent (rtd) Clapham recently retired from the RCMP after leading the 3rd largest Detachment in Canada for seven years. He is now the Chief of Transit Police in metro Vancouver British Columbia, Canada.

For Clapham, an imaginative man for whom turning paradigms on their head is a way of life, there had to be a better way of policing youth then a post-incident, punishment-only approach. Clapham once heard a group of youth describe officers as “hunters.” Disturbed by this characterization, Clapham took the notion, combined it with results of studies of the Minneapolis-based Search Institute showing that positive reinforcement by adult authority figures can be more effective than a negative approach, and came up with the idea of “hunting youth who do the right thing.”

With a little bit of coaxing, police in cities and townships as well as First Nation communities across Canada, began “hunting” for youth doing the right thing. Officers gave these youth recognition and praise for doing the right thing and a “positive ticket.” The goal was to develop relationships with youth in a manner that accentuated the positive aspects of police and policing, increased the number of adults youth could turn to and rely on, and reinforced youths’ good behavior.

Recognizing that youths’ feeling of alienation and sense that they are both disliked and disrespected are antithetical to promoting good behavior, Clapham’s goal was to persuade officers to use tickets to find a way to break the ice with youth. To reduce youths anonymity and find a positive connection, Clapham proposed focusing on the good things youth do and reinforcing those behaviors. Clapham prophesied that increased engagement with youth in a positive setting would result in youth becoming less likely to get involved with people and activities that would hurt their community since they had adults who they wanted to please and whose respect they wanted.

The results in Vancouver bear out this vision. Clapham noted that since implementation of the positive ticketing initiative, juvenile arrests and court referrals in Vancouver had dropped almost in half in a 3 year window. RCMP Officers from Richmond Detachment were giving out 40,000 positive tickets a year: 3 to 1 ratio when compared to the negative ticket.

The positive tickets are redeemable for all sorts of things, from a slice of pizza in Vancouver, to a team-effort to win an ipod-nano in an Indian reservation outside of Quebec.

A typical ticket reads:

“Positive Ticket – To: _______ was caught doing something good”

“It’s not about how many tickets are redeemed. The ticket is the gateway to a relationship. And it is all about the relationship,” Clapham said. “What’s most important is that the ticket is a positive event, and when the youth sees the officer the next time, it will start off on a positive note. For all I know, kids will keep the tickets could be pinned to the wall and be a reminder that a police officer said I was a good kid or a police officer said I could become whatever I wanted.”

And businesses appear all too happy to support the initiative. As one Canadian township noted, “In today’s corporate world, businesses are not just seen as organizations that meet consumer demand while maximizing profits. Businesses are required to be agents of positive societal and community change. In return businesses realize that a strong and healthy community will sustain consumer demand, and that the rate of return on community investment is significant. The Positive Ticketing Program attempts to capitalize on this sound business rationale and bring businesses into the lives of current and future consumers,” writes the Chinook County Security Services which received funding from local businesses and the Calgary Foundation to print the tickets. And youth redeeming their tickets at local businesses would get a second dose of positive reinforcement for having done a good deed to earn the ticket.

In addition to the tickets, officers distribute the equivalent of baseball cards with their photo, name, phone number, and personal information such as interests and a personal message to youth. Ward Clapham’s personal interests include “skiing, hang gliding, technology, and leadership” and his personal message, which appears closely related to the sports he enjoys, reads, “You don’t need drugs to get a high out of life.”

Clapham says he has worked with 53 countries, including the United States, to implement positive ticketing. “I think people recognize that the old approaches are not working in the 21st century. We work harder and harder doing the wrong things. Reacting to crime and putting on band-aids is not working and will not work. We need to seriously address the roots of problems and we need to move from the post incident, corrective, adversarial model.”

And to do that, Clapham says, “We need a model of prepare, not repair. And the best way to prepare is by starting young through positive recognition and relationships.”

For more information on positive ticketing see: