IACP Quick Take: Getting 'real' with the youth about interactions with law enforcement
“The Law and Your Community” is an interactive training program designed to strengthen the relationship between cops and kids
PHILADELPHIA — Forming strong relationships with the youth is a critical component of effective policing. At the 124th Annual International Association of Chiefs of Police Conference, the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE) detailed a program that helps agencies foster these bonds.
Nazmia Comrie, DOJ COPS Office
Dwayne Crawford, NOBLE Executive Director
Mitchell Davis, Hazel Crest Police Department
Janeith Glenn-Davis, BART Deputy Chief of Police (ret.)
Morris Roberson, President of NOBLE Central Virginia Chapter
“The Law and Your Community” is a training program for kids ages 13-18 that acts almost like an expanded civics class divided into three sections: citizenship, law literacy and law enforcement engagement.
Held at community centers, schools and churches, this interactive program is designed to strengthen the relationship between cops and kids by putting them in the officer’s shoes, teaching them about proper interactions with police, and offering an open forum where they can ask questions and raise any concerns they have about law enforcement.
Additionally, kids are taught about federal, state and local laws, their rights and their roles as citizens in our democratic system.
The program was started after NOBLE found the majority of kids didn’t understand the basic elements of law and citizenship. “We realized that schools now don’t teach a lot about government, or the role of government,” NOBLE Executive Director Dwayne Crawford said.
3 KEY TAKEAWAYS
- The key word here is “interactive.” The program’s effectiveness is in its design: this is not cops talking at kids for an hour – it’s a series of training scenarios such as traffic stops and use of force incidents that teach kids how to properly interact with LE. In many scenarios, roles are reversed to help the kids gain an even deeper understanding of the difficulty of the job.
- To reach kids, you need to be real with them. That means difficult conversations they aren’t expecting to have with LEOs. Chief Mitchell Davis of the Hazel Crest (Illinois) Police Department begins his program by asking if anyone in the room hates the police. Most kids are shocked that a cop would ask that type of question, and those who raise their hands are the first kids Davis engages with. You need to be frank and truly listen to their perspectives. It’s these interactions that allow you to truly connect with kids at a deeper level. That you’re also teaching kids about their rights as citizens helps break through to them as well – it’s not information they’re expecting to get from a police officer and it gets you a lot of buy-in. The key is not to preach, but to communicate.
- Cities that want to get involved can fill out a form on NOBLE’s website. From there, the organization will contact you to learn about the unique needs of your community and customize a plan. The agency then selects officers and sends them to be trained in the program. “The Law and Your Community” is not one-size-fits all and fully customizable – it can be as long as 12 weeks or as short as a 90-minute single presentation.
When selecting officers for the program, good candidates are those who are already highly community-oriented. But it’s important to look for diversity as well. The panel stressed that the kids want it to be real; they don’t only want trainers who look like them.
Get creative with the role reversal scenarios. Davis has had his officers mimic the behavior of people during real encounters with law enforcement. When the kids accuse them of being overdramatic, he shows them video of the real incident they based the scenario on. The kids can’t believe it.
NOBLE says they can be in “the front, the middle, or the back” – they don’t care who gets the credit for your program, as long as the content is getting out there.
Consider giving your class information about your local Citizens Academy or taking them to a MILO range for an even deeper look into the law enforcement profession.
Yes, this program is designed for children, but keep in mind the kids take the lessons they’ve learned back home. Your message may reach further than what is immediately apparent.