The 2017-18 session of the Policing Project’s Youth-Police Engagement Program is officially up and running at Woodrow Wilson High School in East Camden, New Jersey! By bringing youth and police officers together in a classroom setting, our program seeks to give youth an active and ongoing voice in how their community is policed, to strengthen youth-police relationships, and to develop a national model for this sort of engagement.
We piloted the program at Woodrow Wilson last year with ten after-school sessions. This year, with the generous support of the Campbell Soup Foundation, the Harris Foundation, and the Open Society Foundations, we have expanded our curriculum to 20 sessions, and worked with administrators at Woodrow Wilson to move the program into the school day, allowing for increased student participation. We have also incorporated exciting field trip opportunities with some of our partner organizations in Camden, Philadelphia, and New York City.
We held our first student-only session for the 2017-2018 program on November 2. Policing Project facilitators introduced students to the goals and structure of the yearlong program and answered their questions. From the outset, it was clear that the students had strong opinions about policing in Camden and were skeptical of, yet also intrigued by, the possibility of working together with officers. Over the next few sessions, facilitators will work to create a safe environment where students can share their experiences and interactions with officers and express any doubts or concerns that they have about working with officers in the classroom. By creating a space where the students feel like they can communicate their feelings honestly and openly, we will then be able to move forward to productive dialogue with the officers.
Officers from the Camden County Police Department will have their own orientation session on November 9. In this session, Policing Project facilitators will work with the officers on practicing being open to dialogue with students and how to listen and communicate respectfully even when discussing sensitive topics.
After a few sessions working separately with the officers and students, the two groups will come together and begin the process of getting to know each other and working together. In the later sessions, the two groups will work together to identify an issue around policing in Camden and research potential solutions. Finally, students and officers will present their chosen solution to Chief of Police, Scott Thomson, and various community stakeholders
Even from our initial student session this year, it is clear that there is critical need for the Youth-Police Engagement program. There is a real gap to bridge between these students and the CCPD. We are excited to have the opportunity to bring these two groups together for meaningful discourse for a second year!