Let’s All Be a “PLAYER” (Police Legitimacy And Youth Engagement = Results)

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The following guest blog post on police-youth relations was originally posted on July 5, 2016 by the International Association of Chiefs of Police and can be found here. It has been reposted with permission.

I was recently invited to attend the Police and Youth Engagement Roundtable: Supporting the Role of Law Enforcement in Juvenile Justice Reform hosted by the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) with support from the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) and the Coalition for Juvenile Justice (CJJ). Prior to my arrival, I was probably like most chiefs, with 30 plus years of experience, in believing I had a very comprehensive grasp of police/youth relations as a result of both experience and involvement in various youth initiatives over the years.

I expected the two-day event would be an opportunity to highlight some of our department’s efforts and had minimal expectations on gleaning much new insight from our youth attendees – was I ever mistaken! I was so impressed by the stories of our youth partners and the courage and tenacity of many of them in not only overcoming obstacles and challenges in their lives, but also using those experiences to motivate them to be leaders in their communities with the drive to help improve understanding between youth and law enforcement.

I was impacted and taken aback by the existing level of current misperceptions, by both youth and officers, despite our ongoing community policing efforts to bridge gaps and eliminate barriers. This roundtable has further energized me to reinforce to my department the need for our profession to always respect our citizens, regardless of age, and to slow down, listen to people, and not assume every call type is the same. Is this runaway call unique in some way? Have we inquired as to this youth’s well-being and any underlying issues in addition to handling the call?

As police officers, when interacting with youth, we need to engage in meaningful conversations. We need to recognize any implicit biases we hold and remain mindful not to overly fixate on the enforcement aspect of our duties. Some of our youth are not receiving adequate parental guidance and support so let’s maximize our interactions as opportunities to mentor while restraining any tendency to “talk down” or be over-authoritative.

Let’s have a conversation first, explain what we’re doing and why we’re doing it, and humanize ourselves to our adolescent population while helping kids understand the parameters of proper accountability. This session motivated me to increase training for my officers in relation to how we can more effectively communicate with our youth and provide higher levels of service particularly to those children exposed to violence. The most effective way to improve police/youth relations and create lasting and meaningful juvenile justice reform is through genuine engagement and mutual respect.

Let’s be the right kind of “PLAYERs”!

About the Author: Chief Steve Dye (Grand Prairie, Texas, Police Department) was a participant in the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention's Police-Youth Roundtable that was supported by the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the Coalition for Juvenile Justice this past April. For more information on this project, please visit Police and Youth Engagement:  Supporting the Role of Law Enforcement in Juvenile Justice Reform