Last week we introduced you to Detective Constable Byron Capers of the VPD’s Gang Crime Unit, who also happens to be the lead of the annual Gang Tackle event. As a remarkable police officer and incredible human, Byron’s dedication to supporting at-risk youth, like those who attend the Gang Tackle event, was inspired by his own personal struggles and perseverance when he was a teen. This week, we get to know more about Byron and his own story of overcoming adversity which ultimately led him to a successful career in both professional football and policing.
Byron was born in Washington DC, where he spent most of his childhood before moving to Atlanta, Georgia with his mom and brother at the age of 13. Prior to moving, his mom had a great Government job in Washington, D.C, but was unfortunately laid off shortly after their move to Atlanta.
She worked several jobs to make ends meet for Byron and his brother, but with all the independent time they had, it wasn’t long until the brothers started getting into trouble. Despite both Byron and his brother being athletes, they soon developed bad habits and started hanging out with the wrong crowd. And even though his mom worked hard, there were also times when it just wasn’t possible to pay the bills – including rent.
“We were evicted from our home twice,” explains Byron. “Once was in my junior year. I got home from school and all the furniture was gone. There were no cell phones back then so I couldn’t get a hold of my mom or my brother. I didn’t know where they were, and I had nowhere to go.”
Fortunately, there was someone at Byron’s school who was looking out for him, who got to know him and who supported him any way he could. His name was Mike and he was a School Liaison Officer at Byron’s high school – an officer with the Cobb County Police.
“Mike knew my brother and I played sports, and that we were inherently good kids, but he could also tell that we were headed down the wrong path with the wrong people,” says Byron. “One day he took me aside, told me stories, asked me good questions, and he made me think about the decisions I was making and the people I was hanging out with. He also had a great relationship with the coaching staff and made sure they checked on me often. Mike took me under his wing, would always chat with me to make sure things were ok, and he showed me what a positive mentor is.”
When Byron’s family was evicted from their home, Mike explained the hardship Byron was facing to his teachers and coaches – and most importantly, Mike and coaches found somewhere for Byron to stay until his family got back on their feet. Having Mike’s support during those difficult years is something Byron will never forget.
“When traumatic things happen, especially to kids, its natural to pull away from people or have a bad attitude and act out,” explains Byron. “Mike could just tell when things weren’t right with me. Having a police officer who would talk with me, and who had genuine concern for my situation and how I was doing, had a serious impact on me. Mike also taught me that police are there to help, not to harm or harass.”
On top of the hardships and questionable behaviour, Byron also grappled with the embarrassment he felt around his peers. “It’s also embarrassing for a kid in high school to go through something like that – especially in my high school where it was a very mixed race and mixed income school. A lot of kids drove their own nice cars, while there were also a lot of us less fortunate kids jut trying to fit in.”
Mike mentored Byron from grade 9 through to his graduation in grade 12 and helped Byron stay on the right path. Byron even became a very accomplished football player during his high school years and ended up playing four years of football for Florida State University. It was there that Byron started sharing his story of overcoming adversity with vulnerable youth to try to help them understand there is a better way. He set up mentoring programs and would actively go out and talk to kids that were experiencing the same things he did as a teen.
Byron was drafted by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1997 NFL Draft and also went on to play nine years in professional football in the CFL.
“Once I started my professional football career, I kept mentoring at-risk kids, travelling to different high schools and elementary schools between my practices and games,” says Byron. “It was my goal to be a positive role model for as many kids as I could, and it felt so natural for me to do. It was such a great routine for me, and it continued until I retired from professional football in 2006.”
“My story was, and still is, so relatable to so many kids. It enables kids to see that there is a life outside what they are facing now, and to never give up.”
After a couple years enjoying retirement and living in Vancouver, Byron happened to be out for a haircut one day and noticed the Commercial Drive Community Policing Centre next door. He knew it was time to put himself out there in a meaningful way once again, so after the haircut he walked into the Commercial Drive ‘CPC’ and signed up to be a regular volunteer.
Byron put in thousands of volunteer hours over the course of the next four years, far more hours than most CPC volunteers. He enjoyed it so much that he eventually took it to the next level – he applied to be a VPD officer, was accepted, and completed Police Academy Class #137 before his first official year on the job with the VPD in March 2012. Over the last 12 years Byron has worked patrol in District Two, including BET in the downtown eastside for four years, and has been a Detective Constable in the Gang Crime Unit since.
And from his first day on the job as a VPD officer, Byron went above and beyond his regular shift work to support youth in Vancouver. Whether he was volunteering with Street to School, Turning Point, Gang Tackle, or being an ongoing guest speaker in local schools, Byron continued to share his story of overcoming adversity and provide mentorship across the city. Byron is also an Assistant Coach for his son’s hockey team and now defunct Simon Fraser University’s football teams.
Based on his background in sports, Byron is a true team player both at work and in the community, and will tell you that he isn’t comfortable taking credit for his own successes. “Being a police officer reminds me so much of my previous sports environment where everything is based on teamwork. It was like I came out of retirement, only now I was on a policing team, not a football team.”
As an at-risk teen growing up in a really tough neighbourhood, Byron understands what vulnerable Vancouver youth are going through and how to relate to them. Just as it was his School Liaison Officer Mike who found him and mentored him out of his poor decisions, Byron knows its his calling to do the same for Vancouver teens.
“Mike had a huge impact on my life, and I hope to do the same for as many kids as I can here in Vancouver.”
The Vancouver Police Foundation supports programs and initiatives that fall under one of four pillars: Youth Programs, Mental Health & Addictions, Community Outreach & Engagement, and Technology & Special Equipment. You can help build a safer Vancouver by donating to the Vancouver Police Foundation.