MH First Responders: Program brings teens and cops together

June 12, 2015
By

A long-running program to bring teens and police officers together—including in Roxbury—aims to expand its offerings, according to a recent announcement at Boston Police headquarters.

Since 1992, Roxbury-based Center for Teen Empowerment has worked with BPD on events where teens and police can meet face-to-face and learn about each other. Those events include summits, training sessions and sports and arts events.

One such event was a youth and police talent show held in March at JP’s Spontaneous Celebrations. More than 100 youths and officers attended.

“It’s a group of kids really having a serious, meaningful conversation with officers who are really listening and valuing that conversation,” Teen Empowerment Executive Director Stanley Pollack told the Gazette. “It’s helping youths deal with challenges and learning to talk to each other. And it brings youths to the cops, showing them, ‘Hey, that guy is a human being.’”

“It’s common sense,” he said.

“I can’t say enough good things about our involvement and partnership with Teen Empowerment,” BPD Commissioner William Evans said in a written statement to the Gazette. “The kids have taught us about the dangers of stereotyping young people as disinterested or detached. Quite the contrary, the kids from Teen Empowerment are engaged and eager to get involved and they’ve certainly taught us a lot about the power of positive dialogue and the productive change it can bring about.”

Relations between police and teens—especially minority youths—can be troubled and sometimes lethal. The nationwide protests about police brutality in the wake of last summer’s Ferguson, Mo., police killing of a teenager have thrust the issue into the spotlight.

Teen Empowerment’s program came out of tough times in Boston—the 1990s crackdown on gangs, when young people often complained of police abuses. And complaints still arise. Last year, the ACLU of Massachusetts issued a report alleging a pattern of racial profiling in BPD stop-and-frisk incidents, with a young JP man’s experiences featured as a troubling example.

Pollack said the work between Teen Empowerment and BPD makes a real difference in building an overall relationship.

“They like each other,” he said of the teens and officers who meet. “Compare that with what’s going on in the rest of the country.”

Events for the can be as small as two dozen youths and officers talking, to relationship building exercises for up to 200 youths and 50 officers.

Those types of events will expand, Teen Empowerment and BPD officials said at a May 20 press conference at BPD’s Roxbury headquarters. This summer, they will include more dialogue sessions and a youth-police 3-on-3 co-ed basketball tournament.

For more information, see TeenEmpowerment.org.

Boston Police Superintendent William Gross joins Center for Teen Empowerment organizers at BPD headquarters on May 20. (Photo Courtesy BPD)

Boston Police Superintendent William Gross joins Center for Teen Empowerment organizers at BPD headquarters on May 20. (Photo Courtesy BPD)