YOUTH UNDERSTANDING POLICE
1. Briefly describe the structure of your program.
The Youth Understanding Police (YUP) Program seeks to bridge the gap between the youth and police officers of the Stamford community. These groups are brought together to encourage better interpersonal relationships through the use of meetings, sporting events and dances. Enhancing the youth-police relationship are other representatives of the community—from various city-wide agencies, public schools and city services.
The meetings consist of group discussions between the youth and police officers. These forums are facilitated by those community representatives who serve on the YUP committee. Sample discussion topics include: appropriate times for police to stop and inquire, stop and frisk or effect an arrest; the youth view of appropriate exercise of police authority; and how youth should behave when confronted by police. Meetings are conducted at age appropriate levels focusing on high school and middle school students. High school students who are considered to be borderline are selected by the School Resource Officer (SRO)1 in their school to participate in these conferences on conflict. Skits are often utilized, in addition to discussion, as a teaching tool to illustrate to the youth how to handle situations that arise. Additionally, youth participate in ride-alongs with police on patrol in their cars. The youth also go with their SRO to jail to speak with prisoners about the realities of prison.
2. When was the program created and why?
The YUP program was created in May 1995 by the City of Stamford utilizing an idea presented by the United States Attorney Christopher Droney. The U.S. Attorney’s concept to bring youth and police to better relationships was enhanced by the City of Stamford to have these groups engage in a dialogue. Youth were involved from the inception of the program. They designed the format of the meetings and dictated which issues to address at the meetings—those that affected them in their community. The youth and police have an equal voice in the discussions, which helps to foster and promote positive relationships between the police and youth of the community, which is the goal of the YUP program.
3. How do you measure the program’s effectiveness?
The effectiveness of the YUP program is measured in several ways. The first manner is the responses of the youth and police during the actual meeting. When youth and police have a better understanding of the other groups’ point of view, then YUP is successful. Through discussion and exploring the positive and negative impacts of interactions between police and youth, both groups show that they are human. When both groups indicate that they have feelings and are sensitive, this helps them to understand the others’ needs. The youth explain how racism and stereotypes often play a part in their interactions with police; the police state how they often are blamed by people for an event that occurred with different police across town.
The interactions of police with the youth after participating in the meetings and discussions also measures the success of the program. Having participated in the dialogue, both the youth and police have a better understanding of each other and a common base to start from—they now know each other. Out in the community these youth and police have more positive relationships which have grown out of their conversations, facilitated by YUP.
Lastly, the effectiveness of the Youth Understanding Police Program can be measured by the results of community policing. There are better community relations as a result of YUP meetings. Youth having had positive interactions with police officers at the YUP meeting are no longer intimidated by the blue uniform patrolling their neighborhood. Having participated in YUP-sponsored discussions, the police know some of the young residents that they are serving in the neighborhoods. This makes their job easier, as they have established a positive base from which to build a healthy relationship. Another ice breaker, frequently used by youth and police alike, is mentioning the School Resource Officer. The youth knows the SRO from their interaction at school, while the officer knows the SRO as a colleague. As Officer Eva Maldonado stated, "mention something they have in common and the walls come down and they start communicating."
4. How is the program financed?
The YUP program is run completely by volunteers. Local corporations donated space for the meetings and conferences. The Board of Education printed tickets for the events for free. All of the facilitators donated their time, thoughts and ideas. As Officer Maldonado related, "schools and the community gave back more than they were bound to, and kids are more receptive to that." The YUP program received some money from the U.S. Attorney’s office to pay for refreshments for the meetings and for bowling.
5. How is the community involved in the program, if at allHow has the community responded to the program?
The community has been very involved in the YUP program. Everyone from human service organizations, the faith community, and public schools to City departments such as Health, Police, Youth and Recreation Services has been involved. These organizations have been involved in a variety of capacities from facilitators to advisors.
The community has responded very well to the YUP program. Local corporations have donated building space for their meetings and conferences. Additionally, students involved with the Stamford High School Mediation Department have helped to facilitate the middle school YUP meetings. They performed skits at the forum to show the middle school students how to handle situations—illustrating that mediation, not violence, is a successful method to resolve situations. Mentoring also occurs between older YUP participants and the younger ones.
6. Contact person:
One of the main coordinators for the Youth Understanding Police Program is the Stamford Police Department. The contact person is Deputy Chief Lester McCoy. He has been involved with YUP since its inception.
The United States Conference of Mayors
J. Thomas Cochran, Executive Director
Copyright © 1999, US Conference of Mayors, All rights reserved.