Program Fosters Police-Youth Relationships
By: Valerie Crum
When a small group of police officers sits down with local youth at the Gainesville Police Department's Hall of Heroes, the end goal is understanding through conversation.
As part of the Police-Youth Dialogue Program, which started in the department last year, eight to 12 police officers are selected each month to meet with Gainesville teenagers for a conversation about the relationships between police officers and minors.
The River Phoenix Center for Peacebuilding, a local organization that works to resolve conflict through community building and communication, is responsible for implementing the program. RPCP Executive Director Jeffery Weisberg said the program teaches police about adolescent development and the effects of trauma.
"The goal for the young people is to build a new or stronger relationship with officers, to understand the law and the consequences of their behavior and to gain some new skills of building relationships," he said.
The program begins with a five-hour seminar where the police and teenagers are separated and asked to describe each other using words from A to Z.
From the police officers' point of view, "'C' might be crazy or 'D' might be defiant," said Gretchen Casey, director of victim services for the Office of the State Attorney in Florida's Eighth Judicial Circuit.