Police/Youth Worker Partnerships Strive to Mend Rift Between Kids and Cops
Police here have long had a reputation for being youth workers; that is to say, for working over youth. “They used to take them [kids] to cemeteries and beat them up,” recalls former police chief Nicholas Pastore.
“Cops beating kids up. Cops on the take in terms of the drug business. A lot of stuff that ain’t kosher,” recalls Lisa Sullivan, a former New Haven youth organizer who now runs Listen Inc., a D.C.-based youth development organization. When she worked on a poll of black and Latino youth here in the 1980s, police brutality was one of their top concerns.
In many ways this small city has typified the relationship between cops and kids throughout the country. Just last month a police officer in nearby Hartford shot and killed an unarmed 14-year-old robbery suspect, setting off marches by outraged citizens. Also last month, Attorney General Janet Reno urged increased efforts to curtail brutality and racism in local police departments. While race is often an element in such incidents — the Hartford cop was white and the youth was black — the police/youth schism “transcends color,” says Jamal Bryant, national youth director of the NACCP.
“It’s a paradigm of agism,” he says, “where young people of Hispanic background, Latino background, and white youth, quite frankly, fear threat and danger from the police. Young people have not seen law enforcement as their friend, but rather as their enemy. There is some sense among young people that police categorize them as automatic suspects.”
“This is a dangerous thing,” Bryant says, “because you’re raising a generation of young people that does not trust the police.”
All of which makes the following event noteworthy: after a 17-year-old gang member was shot to death on a street corner a couple of years ago, his fellow gang members gathered at the site for days and talked of revenge. But police, probation officers and mental health workers joined the congregation, listening to youths express grief and anger. After police arrested the alleged killer — with tips from some of the youths on the corner — one gang member told a cop, “You were there for us.”
That’s not a statement police hear often from kids, but it’s a reputation that police here are trying to build through a youth-oriented strategy that has been hailed by President Clinton and is being replicated in other cities with the help of Justice Department grants. New Haven’s Child Development-Community Policing (CD-CP) initiative teams police with clinicians at the Yale University School of Medicine’s Child Study Center and with youth workers from community-based organizations to help kids who’ve been witnesses, victims or perpetrators of violence.
The CD-CP illustrates how the community policing movement that has spread across the country in the 1990s is increasingly adopting a youth component. Community policing itself has become a standard element in many if not most of the nation’s 17,000 police departments: since 1994 the Justice Department’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS) has dispensed more than $5 billion in grants to help 11,300 local grantees (mostly police departments) develop community policing; an unknown number of departments have moved ahead without those grants.
More and more, the Justice Department and private foundations are making sure youth are a key part of the strategy. The Justice Department’s Youth Focused Community Policing initiative, created in 1996, has spent about $4 million helping to develop and expand youth-oriented policing in nine communities, including Boston, Houston, Santa Ana, Calif., and Mound Bayou, Miss. The Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (OJJDP) has given the Yale Child Study Center nearly $1.1 million in grants since 1993 to build and analyze New Haven’s CD-CP and help replicate it in other communities, including Buffalo, N.Y., Charlotte, N.C., and Nashville, Tenn. Over the past decade the Eisenhower Foundation has raised nearly $10 million to build police/community youth development collaborations in cities such as Chicago, Philadelphia and Baltimore. And last December President Clinton announced $10 million in Safe Start grants from the Justice Department to help 12 cities “develop the kinds of comprehensive responses ... that New Haven has pioneered.”
The objectives: improve relations between kids and cops, get youth workers quickly involved with traumatized youth, and break the cycle of violence in families and neighborhoods by intervening early in the lives of kids who are exposed to it. “A child who experiences serious violence is 50 percent more likely to be arrested as a juvenile, and 40 percent more likely to be arrested as an adult,” the president said in announcing the Safe Start grants.
Youth-oriented community policing attacks the problem through fundamental changes in how police work with youth and with youth workers. “They aren’t trying to develop a program,” says Helen Connelly, a Maryland-based consultant for YFCP. “They’re trying to change how they work together on an ongoing basis.”
That’s not to say the change is swift or absolute. While relations between police and youth in New Haven have improved, “there’s a long way to go,” says Roger Vann, president of the Connecticut NAACP.
“What do I think about police/youth relationships? I think they suck,” said Barbara Tinney, chair of the Citywide Youth Coalition, made up of 30 youth-serving agencies.
Even federally backed efforts to replicate New Haven’s initiative have stalled in several communities because they can’t raise the money for more youth mental health workers. Some communities have cut back on police training for CD-CP because of time constraints on cops.
The efforts are born of frustration. At the scenes of domestic disputes, street violence and drug raids in homes, police routinely look helplessly upon kids who are visibly affected by what they’ve seen. “All you could do is pat them on the back and say, ‘It’ll be okay,’” says Lt. Gordon Howey of Nashville, Tenn. In New Haven, Sgt. Stephanie Redding recalls sitting with a girl whose mother had been stabbed. “She said, ‘Is that my mother’s blood on my sneakers?’ I thought, there should be a better way of dealing with this, and we [police] are not the answer.”
Front-line youth workers would hear and share the frustration. “We would get calls from an officer who had arrested a juvenile, and the officer would see that something wasn’t right with this kid,” says Steven Marans, a professor of child psychoanalysis who coordinates the CD-CP program at the Youth Study Center.
But there was no systematic contact between cops and youth workers . “The clinicians didn’t get to see the kids until years later,” Redding notes, when they had gotten into enough legal trouble to be sent to court-ordered diversion programs. By then the youths’ behavioral and psychological struggles were more entrenched.
Also entrenched was an “us versus the world” attitude among New Haven police in the 1980s. The drug and crime epidemic that hit many cities that decade sent Connecticut’s third largest city “out of control,” says current police chief Melvin Wearing, who rose through the ranks as a narcotics officer. The city went from 12 homicides in 1985 to 34 in 1989. Violence was just part of New Haven’s depression: by 1990, according to U.S. Census figures, unemployment was 9.3 percent, 28 percent of families lived below the federal poverty line, and 52 percent of families with children were headed by single parents.
As in many cities, police and kids interacted only when there was trouble. As a result, “the relationship between the kids and police was one of distrust,” says Natalie Guerrier, a Harvard University sophomore who grew
up in New Haven.
“What was most startling to me was the intensity of the dislike our young adults had” toward cops, says former chief Pastore, now a research fellow for the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, based in Washington, D.C. Blaming his department’s “style of in-your-face policing,” Pastore says he saw the disdain develop in some kids before they got out of grade school.
Pastore became police chief in 1990, and set out to rebuild the relationship between the city’s citizens and cops through community policing. In 1991 he helped create a 22-member Board of Young Adult Police Commissioners, made up of high school students who are elected by their peers and meet monthly. The commission interviews all police recruits and influences city youth policy (such as stopping the proposed adoption of a youth curfew and convincing the city to add residential slots for juvenile drug treatment).
So it was fortuitous that Benjamin Cohen, director of Yale’s Child Study Center, called to see if the center could work with police in identifying and helping troubled kids early. There had been growing recognition among police around the country that such intervention was essential to curtail youth crime and, eventually, adult crime. When D.C.-based Fight Crime: Invest in Kids surveyed 548 police chiefs in 1996, 92 percent agreed that “America could sharply reduce crime if government invested more in programs to help children and youth get a good start.” Asked to rank the most effective long-term crime-fighting strategy, the chiefs picked “increasing investments in programs that help all children and youth get a good start” four times as often as “trying more juveniles as adults” or “hiring additional police officers.”
In 1992, CD-CP was born with the help of a $50,000 Rockefeller Foundation grant, and in-kind contributions from Yale and the City of New Haven. Yale, located in the heart of New Haven, has 11,000 students and a $6.6 billion endowment.
Beyond Officer Friendly
Lots of communities have programs where police do nice things with and for kids, such as playing ball with them and organizing field trips. New Haven, for instance, has a Police Athletic League of which it is proud, but “we go beyond PAL,” Wearing says.
The CD-CP uses cross-training to turn cops and youth workers into teams. It includes seminars and fellowships whereby police officers attend workshops at the Child Study Center to learn about child development, to better understand how a youth’s environment shapes his behavior, and to better understand how mental health specialists work with youth. In turn, the Yale direct-service staff attend seminars and spend time on patrol with police, to better understand the environment in which the cops work and to see kids from the perspective of police.
Cops and youth workers were initially wary of each other’s ability to understand their work. “We began by learning about each other,” Marans says.
A major goal of the fellowships and seminars is to establish long-term relationships between police and youth workers, so they can put into practice on the streets perhaps the most vital aspect of the CD-CP: the consultation service. When police arrive at a scene where a kid has witnessed or been involved in violence, they have immediate access to clinicians at the Study Center; one is on call for the cops around-the-clock. The clinician can join the cop on-the scene, visit the youth and family later, make referrals to mental health and social services — or do all three.
Case in point: Redding and Officer Bernie Somers recall a particularly horrendous domestic violence call. “Every piece of furniture was broken,” Redding says. Compounding the horror was the presence of a grade-school-aged boy — “the mother got her butt kicked in front of her kid,” Somers says — and the pending arrival of a 12-year-old girl who was the subject of the brawl.
The mother had accused her husband of molesting the girl, Redding says. The man was arrested for assaulting the woman; the woman worried about how the incident would affect her children. “She didn’t want [the girl] to think it was her fault,” Redding says.
The police called the Child Study Center, which dispatched a psychologist to talk to the mother and son, to wait for the girl to get home from school so he could help the mother explain what happened, and to arrange counseling for them. “We don’t know how to go through that system,” Redding says of the cumbersome process of accessing programs for substance abuse, domestic violence, sexual abuse and pregnancy. “They can pave the way to get a kid in.”
Police and the Child Study Center also refer kids to community-based agencies, such as the Coordinating Council for Children in Crisis, Inc. (“The 4 C’s”), which provides services for kids who have been victimized by crime, the New Haven Family Alliance, which provides case management for first offenders and their families, and Domestic Violence Services of Greater New Haven. The CD-CP work is part of a larger department effort that includes police visits to community-based organizations, such as Latino Youth Development, to run workshops on drugs, crime and the value of staying in school.
Eyes and Ears
For youth workers the advantage is clear: more than 300 of New Haven’s 450 cops have been through CD-CP training, and all recruits are introduced to the concept in the police academy. That’s a lot of extra eyes and ears to observe and reach young people. “They are becoming more like youth workers because they’re utilizing and interacting with social service agencies more,” says Stiber, director of the 4 C’s Neighborhood Victim Advocacy Program. “They’re trying to identify services that would help the youth and their families.”
Maintaining that activism among cops on the beat takes more than a few seminars. “It’s constant training,” Somers says. The Child Study Center holds weekly meetings where officers come to discuss kids they’re dealing with on their neighborhood beats. Police supervisors (such as Sgt. Redding) meet weekly with juvenile probation officers, Child Study Center clinicians, and representatives from the Department of Child and Family Services and from community-based agencies. Redding says that youth workers talk about a youth’s progress in treatment, while police discuss the youth’s behavior in the neighborhood. A Gateway Offenders Program launched three years ago — with the help of a $2.1 million Drug Control Systems Improvement grant from the Justice Department — provides counseling and development services for first-time offenders aged 10 and up.
All this understanding does not mean cops are going soft on kids accused of crime. The collaboration combines youth services with legal consequences for wrongful behavior. “For kids who cross the line, treatment needs to include consequences,” says Marans of the Child Study Center.
In fact, arrests of persons under 18 in New Haven rose from 1,567 in 1992 to 3,515 by 1995; the figures dropped to 3,049 in 1997. Wearing admits that “the data aren’t there yet” to demonstrate that CD-CP reduces juvenile crime. But he and his officers are convinced that it will. Officer Somers hopes that “the kids who are 10 and 12 now aren’t the ones I’m going to be arresting as adults.”
The long-term benefits will grow not only from helping kids deal with their own immediate struggles, Marans says, but in changing youths’ perception of police from anonymous enforcers to “benign figures of authority.” Cops and youth workers say they see more respect and less animosity between city police and youth. “They [kids] don’t see the police as such bad guys anymore,” Stiber says.
Guerrier, the Harvard sophomore who served as president of the board for the young adult commission, says the youth-oriented community policing effort has “definitely” improved young people’s perceptions of police. “You see more of them,” she says of the cops. “A lot of times you know them personally. And the officers get to know the kids.”
Struggles and Replication
But the distrust between police and kids has hardly been erased — especially among minority youth, who often feel like targets of suspicion by anyone with a badge. “New Haven is an example of a police force that is trying to improve relations,” says Vann of the Connecticut NAACP. “On the other hand, we still have a pretty serious issue related to police misconduct.”
Tinney, head of the Citywide Youth Coalition and executive director of the New Haven Family Alliance, says that because of the CD-CP “there is a segment of the police department that does understand the developmental needs of young people and has a greater appreciation for who they are. But there’s an element of the law enforcement community that treats young urban children from an assumption of guilt.” At a conference between local kids and cops last year, she says, “These kids said clearly, ‘You don’t respect us, you make snap judgments based on how you see us and what you think about who we are.’”
Overcoming such feelings, says Bryant of the NAACP, takes more than a few workshops and basketball games with kids. On their routine patrols, police must see that “they are not aliens to the community, that they can speak to kids not just when they’re in trouble. Just make themselves available.”
Sounds like CD-CP. Yet even with federal funding and applause from the White House, CD-CP efforts still struggle for time and money. In New Haven, the police fellowships used to last five full days; now it’s three, because of time constraints on the police. Nashville’s police course has shrunk from three days to one. “It’s really hard to take a police officer off the street for three days,” says Lt. Howey of the Nashville department.
Several replication communities are scouring for money to employ more youth workers for kids; the OJJDP grants don’t cover such costs. (They cover such things as bringing police and youth workers to New Haven to train them to be trainers in their communities, and the development of training curricula.) Marans says New Haven has absorbed the increase in youth referred for services through its existing mental health network, primarily through the staff at Yale. Even if the federal help dried up, Maran says, “we would continue doing the work” at Yale. “It has become a part of the way we do business.” Nashville doesn’t have such a resource. Thus its three-year-old CD-CP effort remains confined to one area — the Enterprise Community — even though police outside that area have been trained. The holdup: the non-profit agency that provides the youth counseling doesn’t have enough staff to handle a bigger workload. “My burden is to raise the money to hire the staff to do that,” says Peg Leonard Martin, director for outreach services at Family and Children’s Services. The agency’s current staff has been funded by the United Way of Middle Tennessee, private foundations such as the Nashville Community Foundation, and the federal Victims of Crime Act.
In Charlotte, the police and youth workers (from Mecklenburg County’s mental health agency and the Carolinas Medical Center) simply add the new cases to their workload, which usually means uncompensated overtime. “They’re pretty much voluntary,” says Sgt. Joe Neely, who coordinates the program for the police department.
But Charlotte is trying to take the program citywide, saying it has results to justify the extra work. Neely says the district with the CD-CP pilot program used to lead the city in homicides and violent crime. A few years ago, he says, the average was 20 murders a year. Last year’s total: one. “It’s hard to pinpoint” specific factors, he says, but he says that through CD-CP over the last few years, “we saw a lot of kids, we saw a lot of families. We hope that had a little bit to do with it.”
Investing in such efforts with kids “is a dollar and cents matter,” says Gil Kerlikowske, deputy director of COPS. “If you can deter somebody from being involved in crime later on, you not only save the agony of future victims and the families involved on all sides, but from a dollars and cents standpoint, you’ve made a great impact” by avoiding the astronomical costs of arresting, trying and incarcerating that person.
The growth in youth-oriented community policing shows that policymakers believe the concept; turning the concept into reality is still a ponderous process that requires free sweat by youth workers and a struggle to get more money invested in youth development rather than in remedial programs and incarceration.
Child Study Center
Yale University School of Medicine
230 South Frontage Rd.
P.O. Box 207900
New Haven, CT 06520
Citywide Youth Coordinating Council
c/o New Haven Family Alliance
25 Science Park
New Haven, CT 06511
Assistant Chief Doug McDonald
New Haven Police Department, CD-CP
One Union Ave.
New Haven, CT 06519
Criminal Justice Policy Foundation
109 Church St., Rm. 604
New Haven, CT 06510
Lt. Gordon Howey
Nashville Police Department
1119 12th Ave. S.
Nashville, TN 37203
Boyle, Patrick. "Police/Youth Worker Partnerships Strive to Mend Rift Between Kids and Cops." Youth Today, May 1999, p. 1.
©2000 Youth Today. Reprinted with permission from Youth Today. All rights reserved.