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Afterschool & Law Enforcement: Partners in keeping kids and communities safe

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Afterschool & Law Enforcement: Partners in keeping kids and communities safe

The Afterschool Alliance is excited to announce a new blog series focusing on law enforcement and afterschool partnerships. As juvenile justice reform gains more attention from the afterschool field, the Afterschool & Law Enforcement series highlights how the out-of-school time field is partnering with police to keep kids out of jail and strengthen communities. Throughout the rest of the year, we will be sharing themed blogs that highlight many aspects of these partnerships, such as motivations for partnering, building relationships, highlights from city-systems, outcomes, and recommendations for getting started. Additionally, we will share stories from some of our favorite partnerships as part of the Afterschool Spotlight series

In this first blog of the series, we will go deep on one component of many afterschool programs: mentoring. While common in many programs, mentoring seems to be especially prevalent in programs that focus on fostering stronger police and youth relations. Last week, the U.S. Senate law enforcement caucus recognized the importance of mentoring by hosting a congressional briefing on youth mentoring. The goal was to discuss the role law enforcement can play in mentoring youth and share examples of law enforcement initiatives that have led to successful youth mentoring programs in their communities.

Three individuals with on-the-ground experience in developing these programs shared their knowledge and insight:

Chief Jim Bueermann, president, Police Foundation. While working at the Redlands Police Department, Chief Bueermann developed a mentoring program that supported high schoolers in exploring law enforcement careers and becoming officers.

Donald Northcross, founder, OK Program. Northcross developed the OK Program in 1990 while working as a Deputy Sheriff at the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department. This is a mentoring and leadership program where law enforcement officers partner with African-American men to support African-American boys.

Orrin White, assistant director of community engagement, United Way of DelawareInspired by challenges African-American youth faced throughout Delaware, White initiated We are the Why. This program allowed youth to work with officers to learn about law enforcement, discuss issues in their communities, and develop ways to improve law enforcement-community relations.

These speakers shared their knowledge and experiences related to program development and gaining community support and the amazing outcomes these programs provide students, officers, and their community. They also highlighted outcomes of their partnerships and provided recommendations for building and maintaining strong partnerships. 

"These programs helped destroy prejudices youth held against cops and cops held against youth."

Outcomes

  • The most significant outcome of these programs was the development of relationships between participating youth and law enforcement. These programs helped destroy prejudices youth held against cops and cops held against youth. Northcross shared how relationships transformed through the OK Program. “At the beginning there is tension in the room when officers enter, but by the end youth are high-fiving and hugging officers.”
  • Both youth and officers gained new insight on how to interact in the community to reduce misunderstanding and distrust. White emphasized this, stating, “It’s important that officers are able to see how they are perceived by the community and learn from this.”
  • In established programs, youth participants are graduating high school and giving back to their communities directly—with many youth even becoming officers themselves.

Recommendations and advice

  • Officers and youth should spend as much time together as possible. The more time they spend together, the stronger their relationships become.
  • It is important to get the chief of police on board to encourage individual officers to get involved and offer them the full support of the department.
  • Officers who are on the ground in these communities should be the individuals who participate, because they will be the officers kids interact with more regularly.  
  • It can be beneficial for kids to see officers in uniform during programming at times, because it allows them to recognize the uniform doesn’t change the person.
  • It is good to have a diverse group of officers involved. Officers who are from the community can help officers who are new to the community, have a better understanding the youth and community.

It was great to see the Senate law enforcement caucus draw attention to the role that afterschool mentoring programs can play in supporting youth and fostering improved relations with law enforcement. Keep an eye out for the next blog in this series focused on motivations behind law enforcement and afterschool partnerships — next week!

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