|Const. Brent Lorenz is the Lethbridge Regional Police Service FASD justice officer. Herald photo by David Rossiter|
He didn't get into policing to put away bad guys or wield power like a weapon.
As a former young offenders centre employee and group home worker, Brent Lorenz learned to work with struggling kids before they got wrapped up in a life of crime. Now a constable with the Lethbridge regional police, he's the only police officer in the world who deals specifically with youth who have fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD).
"The reason why we do get into policing is to actually help, believe it or not, and this job brings that to another level," he said.
Lorenz, 36, started out with the municipal police in 2006. For the past three years he's been the FASD Youth Justice Project Officer, a title only three other officers have claimed since the local program began in 1999.
"I've always worked in a career with troubled youth, so when this position came open, naturally I applied for it because I had a general interest in it already," Lorenz said. "When I first started, it was one of my goals, right from day one, was to come into this position. I knew about it, wanted it, and now I'm here."
This time of year is one of Lorenz's busiest, as the South Alberta FASD Service Network swings into its Christmas awareness campaign urging pregnant women not to drink alcohol this holiday season.
FASD encompasses a wide range of brain injuries causing mental, physical and learning disabilities as a result of mothers consuming alcohol or drugs while pregnant. It affects about 36,000 Albertans - although many remain undiagnosed - and those who have it often have trouble understanding the consequences of their actions.
If they find themselves on the wrong side of the law, it's Lorenz's job to help find the best way to help them learn from their mistakes and stay out of trouble in the future.
That means taking referrals from child protection workers, and sometimes even parents, who've identified a child with FASD who may need some help - a simple explanation of the law, a verbal warning or some time in the alternative measures program.
Lorenz deals with a total of between 40 to 50 youths aged 12 to 18 who have FASD, and at any given time he's working on 10 to 20 "intensive cases."
When a youth with FASD is charged with a crime, Lorenz knows about it when it happens. Other officers, all of whom receive some FASD training, sometimes call him at home.
"It's neverending, so there is a lot of time that wouldn't even be (accounted for)," he said.
He then works with a group of professionals, including child protection workers and Crown prosecutors, to work out the best possible resolution to a criminal charge that the prosecutor can recommend to a judge.
"There's no direct path to follow. There's no cookie cutter," he said. "It's specific to the individual, their living circumstances. Sometimes if they need housing, if they need supports, if they need (support) workers, you recommend that."
It's a process that saves time and money within the justice system, he said, which is crucial when dealing with young people with FASD, who generally have a "high recidivism rate."
A random sample of the FASD Youth Justice program's statistics shows that in 2011, police were called 117 times to deal with 10 FASD youth.
"We're really working for a case management approach, as opposed to just a quick fix, so it is a long-term (process) to build a case plan, not specifically just for the charge, but how we prevent them from getting in trouble," Lorenz said.
Sentences the group recommends can range from a verbal warning to jail time, depending on the charges and the individual.
And those recommendations can spur positive change, Lorenz believes. He gives an example of one boy with FASD who faced seven serious charges in 2010. In that year alone, police were called to his house about 40 times. Then Lorenz and his group got involved.
"The next year, we had two incidences," one in which the boy had called police and one in which he was a bystander, Lorenz said.
"We can have a major impact on call-outs for police and outcomes. I believe he's holding down a job right now and doing really well," he said.
His Monday-to-Friday work life is packed with meetings, sitting on committees, giving community presentations, attending youth court and "a mountain of paperwork."
But near the end of each work week, Lorenz takes time to visit his young clients at local group homes or community organizations, and encourages them not to get into trouble over the weekend.
"They're always happy to see me and talk with me and it's a very rewarding job that way," he said.
"One of the best benefits to this job and the previous careers that I've had is that anytime I'm out . . . in the community kids are always telling me about the good things they're doing, because that's what this job is all about - providing a better outcome, trying to be proactive and get them out of trouble, basically."