To improve interactions between youth and law enforcement, training and development are key.
This is the mission of Strategies for Youth, a national nonprofit policy and training organization that works in 15 Indiana counties, coming to Indianapolis in 2014.
“We work with law enforcement and youth, and increasingly parents, to promote best practices and ways of de-escalating police/youth interactions,” said Lisa Thurau, founder and executive director of Strategies for Youth.
Thurau was recently in Indianapolis speaking to local officers about community resources for children and ways to interact with youth who witness the arrest of a parent, a training known as In the Presence of Children.
Policing the Teen Brain is another training designed to support officers and police departments as they work to better their interactions with youth by improving communication and trust.
“Policing the Teen Brain has been the best training that I’ve been to for a long time,” said Capt. Kurt Wolf of the Lafayette Police Department. “It has not only been put to use at work; it’s been invaluable when dealing with my own kids.”
As authority figures, police represent the “face of the state,” said Thurau. “They play a major role in how youth view the legitimacy of authority and government power. It is critical that this interaction go well for us to raise youth who respect law and order. Police are also most likely to encounter youth in need, in trouble and in distress. Understanding youth behavior is key to helping them get the help they need.”
Strategies for Youth has also developed a Juvenile Justice Jeopardy game that teaches teens about the juvenile justice system, counter-acting some common misconceptions in regards to their rights and police operations.
Like training officers, Thurau also believes it is “important for youth to understand that interactions with law enforcement can have serious, long-lasting impacts on their current and future opportunities.”
Thurau says she is seeing progress in police/youth relationships because of these trainings.
“In Indiana and elsewhere, we have seen declines in ‘contempt of cop’ arrests, decreases in disparities of rates of arrest of youth of color, and increases in the level of detail officers use to write reports on youth and officers’ willingness to consider alternatives to arrest, including referrals to youth-serving community-based organizations,” she said, adding that they “also see youth using the lessons they learned in the Juvenile Justice Jeopardy game to adopt new responses to their peers and to authority figures.”
Rebecca Humphrey, Youth Services executive director and Tippecanoe County Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative/Disproportionate Minority Confinement coordinator, has seen quantifiable progress in Tippecanoe County.
Said Humphrey, “We have witnessed a 31.7 percent decrease in total resisting law enforcement, disorderly conduct and battery against law enforcement charges from 2013 to 2015. The only thing that has changed during this time frame was the implementation of Policing the Teen Brain and Juvenile Justice Jeopardy in our community.”
Humphrey continued, “Through Tippecanoe County’s Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative, we have realized the need for improved relationships and understanding for youth and adults and we are pleased that Strategies for Youth has responded to this need with quality trainings for our community.”
How are these trainings shaping Indianapolis? Assistant Chief James Waters of the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department said Strategies for Youth’s four-year partnership with IMPD has been beneficial.
“Policing the Teen Brain has armed our officers with knowledge of adolescent brain development and alternatives to arrest,” said Waters. “Juvenile Justice Jeopardy has afforded opportunities for positive and enjoyable interaction with teenagers while teaching them how to interact with police officers and the consequences of poor decision-making. Lastly, In The Presence Of Children training educated officers on the mitigation of emotional trauma to kids witnessing the arrest of a parent.”
To further invite cooperation and positivity between law enforcement and youth, Thurau suggested that community members, youth programs, parents, neighbors and teens partner with police to solve problems. She recommended the following actions as positive examples of partnerships:
- Avoid calling the police when youth engage in normal misbehavior, such as not going to school, refusing to obey, hanging out on a street, not doing dishes, etc.
- Call 211 for handling issues with youth, and save 911 for emergencies.
- Use youth-serving, community-based organizations in lieu of calling the police to arrest or discipline youth.
- Teach youth accurate information about interactions with police.
- Invite law enforcement to meet young people in non-incident related opportunities.
- Share perceptions of what police are doing well and not so well routinely.
Strategies for Youth and the Marion County Commission on Youth (MCCOY) will be partnering in the future to bring more trainings to Indianapolis. In the meantime, learn more about Strategies for Youth at http://strategiesforyouth.org/ and check out MCCOY’s training opportunities at https://mccoyouth.org/events/categories/upcoming-trainings/.