Monday, December 3, 2012

Changing Dynamics: Cops and Kids of Color

“As much as you don’t want me to stereotype you, I don’t want you to stereotype me and tell me I come running up and beat you upside the head because I don’t do that” Officer 2004 Youth-Law Enforcement Forum
“My mom told me to respect the cops, but you’ve got to give respect to get respect.”  Youth 2004 Youth-Law Enforcement Forum
“You might see a black person on the corner and you automatically assume he’s dealing but he might be an A student but you’ll never know and you will use the same way to handle the situation that you would use with someone who gave you lip. I just want to know why you all stereotype us" Youth, School Youth- Law Enforcement Forum 2006
The Philadelphia Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC) Working Group was formed  by the statewide DMC Subcommittee  in 2003 to address DMC in Philadelphia.  The Working Group included leaders from five branches of law enforcement, public defenders, prosecutors, community members and youth who shared a commitment to reduce the number of kids of color coming into the delinquent system.  Data showed that the greatest disparities occurred at the point of arrest, which became the initial focus of the group.

The first Minority Youth- Law Enforcement Forum was held in 2003.  The Forums bring youth from the community together with law enforcement for frank discussions about their experiences.  The Forums include a facilitated panel discussion between youth and officers, small groups that allow officers and youth to talk more informally and a shared lunch.  Both youth and officers who were part of the forums said that they changed their opinions about each other after the conversations.  Both groups recommended additional training for police about how to work with youth.

The Philadelphia DMC Youth-Law Enforcement Curriculum was created in 2009 and incorporates the Forums’ panel discussions, breakout groups and shared lunch.  The Curriculum also includes training on adolescent brain development, the effects of trauma, and role-play exercises to help officers and youth practice effective ways to interact with each other on the street.

The Forums and the Curriculum aim to improve the relationship between officers and youth thereby  reducing both volatile interactions on the street and the number of arrests of minority youth.  Over 700 police recruits have been trained with the curriculum in Philadelphia and the program has been used in Pittsburgh and Lancaster, PA.

Rhonda McKitten is a senior attorney in the Juvenile Unit of the Defender Association of Philadelphia and is the Disproportionate Minority Contact Coordinator for Philadelphia. rmckitten(at)philadefender(dot)org

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