The Policing Project has been approached by several jurisdictions across the nation to address a weakness in existing police-community outreach programs—the failure to engage youth. Law enforcement leaders persistently mentions this as one of the top problems they face.
Young people do not actively participate in community engagement opportunities provided by police departments as frequently as their older counterparts. They face social and emotional challenges unique to their age cadre; they often are distrustful of authority figures; and they may fear that speaking honestly in front of police could lead to punishment.
As police departments themselves recognize, engagement with the youth in their communities is crucial. Doing so makes it possible for policing agencies to understand the special needs of youth and to address them, as well as to obtain their assistance in combatting crime. In addition, successful substantive engagement early on can help youth resist negative peer pressure and getting caught up in criminal activity.
In order to develop our youth-oriented projects, the Policing Project is partnering with educators, experts in adolescent development, and local police officials. We are developing a novel curriculum that will allow both police and youth to identify the challenges they face, then bring them together to develop actionable policies to improve relations. The mutual goals are to give youth voice in how they are policed, while developing sensitivity to the problems of law enforcement. The Policing Project embarks on this initiative understanding precisely how difficult the path is, but with confidence that building a foundation of engagement with young people can increase trust and lead to stronger police-community relations in the jurisdiction as a whole.