By Rachel Wion
In 2011, the Houston Texas Police Department began an experiment that was designed to reduce the number of teens going into gangs and becoming criminals using federal funding through the Department of Justice for community policing services. Assistant Chief Brian Lumpkin worked with Principal Research Investigator Everette B. Penn, PhD, and criminologists from the University of Houston–Clear Lake, to create a proposal for an alternative school called the Teen And Police Service (TAPS) Academy.
In this program, at-risk teens who have a problem with making bad decisions were enrolled in a 15-week program at the TAPS Academy school because of committing serious code of conduct violations or criminal infractions. The school used mentoring techniques to reduce the social barrier between the teens and police, which helped the teens to view life differently and gave them better decision making skills. It also helped the officers better relate to the teenagers in their communities.
The Academy started with a pledge that was focused on moving the youth from at-risk to at-promise status. They then studied topics such as anger management, avoiding gang life, bullying, conflict management, drug usage, and police interaction. After the presentation on each of these subjects, 10 teens and two officers formed a small group and discussed the topic of the presentation, how it affected their lives and their community. They shared beliefs, ideas, concerns, and discussed stereotypes. The teens learned to respect authority and gained a deeper understanding of what it is like to be a policeman. The officers gained insight into what the teens faced and the cultures of the communities. They helped the teens learn life management skills and grow in acceptance of others.
The mentors were all trained in psychology, conflict resolution, juvenile justice, child development, and mentoring. They also had support meetings to help resolve issues that happened during the program. The TAPS Academy program was such a success that all officers in Houston had the training added to their regular police training, even if they were not mentors. It helped them better understand the teen mentality and made it easier for them to deal with problems. The Academy is still in existence today. It still helps to reduce crime, turn problem teens around and get them on the right track. You can visit their website at http://www.tapsacademy.org/.
Not all areas are able to have programs such as the TAPS Academy, but school-based mentoring is also one of the most effective approaches to community policing and helping reduce crime.
Community policing means that officers get involved in the community. There are stronger relationships built and misconceptions are erased. In many areas today, officers are serving as mentors in local schools, such as in the Adopt A Cop Program. Mentoring that starts in the earlier years, such as 4th grade, is even more effective at deterring gang alliances and at-risk behavior in their teens. All of these programs are designed to help children gain a better life, but they also perform a secondary function because they heal the chasm that has developed between law enforcement and communities. By seeing the officers as friends, children learn to respect the law. Their families discover that the officers are good people who want to help their children. And the officers once again become deeper members of the community. Everyone wins.
For More information on the Adopt A Cop Mentoring Program, please contact us.