Breaking Down Barriers Between Police and Youth

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By Jason, 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

When out in the field, officers can make common assumptions about “perpetrators” and “victims.” When they do this, they are stereotyping instead of looking in-depth at societal issues individuals and communities face. Sometimes law enforcement explain that they are making decisions based on past experiences. However, it is important for law enforcement to understand the problems and experiences of both “perpetrators” and “victims.”

I am from the Bay Area and based on my experiences with police officers, they need to have stronger community connections. To build relationships between the communities and law enforcement, the police need to understand the culture, struggles within neighborhoods, and different family dynamics in those neighborhoods. This will give law enforcement a better understanding of how they can help the community. When police listen to people from the community, these people are going to tell their stories about their lives and how living in that community impacted them. This will help law enforcement learn more about their community, understand that everybody has a different story, and help law enforcement show a little sympathy. Law enforcement will be reminded that everyone's situations are different and that they should show sympathy for community members because of the social struggles that some of these people experience.

Sometimes officers have negative interactions with certain people because of their race, appearance, gender, or maybe criminal background. That’s stereotyping and if that’s the case, then police academies can begin with a training where they connect the community and law enforcement on a more personal level to build empathy. A good strategy to gain community members' trust is by practicing approachability tactics.

In order for police officers to show sympathy to others, it's important for them to find peace within themselves. This can include enrolling in counseling, so they can talk about trauma they witness that can be weighing heavily on them. I know a couple police officers that have gone through traumatizing events on duty and then come back the next day as if nothing ever happened. For example, one police officer told me about a time when there was a fire in a three-story building and he heard screaming on the second floor, but he couldn't do anything about it because of how quickly the fire was spreading. When the fire went out, he saw a young adolescent that was burnt alive. Events like this, shootouts, seeing a dead body on the ground, or being a messenger to a family of a murder victim, can weigh heavily on individuals, ultimately affecting officers and their work. Through counseling, officers can work with professionals on their coping skills and exercises to practice while they are out working in communities.

Everybody makes mistakes but it is important that they don’t build a habit or repeat them and instead learn from them. We’re all humans. Nobody is perfect, but it’s up to us all to make it better.

Jason is 17 and he's from the Bay Area. He's interested in police-youth relations because this is the first step of making communities better. In the future, Jason wants to go to college and major in sociology and business. His motto is "You have to fail to learn and learn to grow."