The Importance of Department Wide Youth Outreach

Guest Blogger: Scott Nadeau, Chief of Police, Columbia Heights, Minnesota, Police Department

“Seeking active partnerships in the community in order to protect life and property, innovatively solve problems and enhance the quality of life in the communities we serve.”

With this mission in mind, and the concept that community policing is everyone’s job, the Columbia Heights Police Department implemented a series of youth outreach programs targeted at building relationships with at-risk youth and reducing criminal activity.

colheightsmapColumbia Heights, as a first ring suburb of Minneapolis, is significantly more diverse and less affluent than the state of Minnesota as a whole. We have a large population of immigrants, primarily from Mexico and East Africa, and there are a total of 38 different languages spoken by families in the school district. In addition, 79% of our students qualify for free or reduced lunch.

Youth Outreach Programs

Our first youth outreach programs were implemented under the Cops-N-Kids initiative and included a weekly open gym at the high school and middle school. In this initial partnership with the school district, police department employees would staff the gymnasium during after-school hours and spend time building relationships with the kids. This program continues to draw gate counts of over 5,000 youth per year.

The success of the open gym program led to additional police/school partnerships including an “Anti-Bullying Reading” program where officers read to classes of children between kindergarten and fourth grade twice a year. The “Anti-Bullying Reading” program underscores the school’s message regarding the harmful effects of bullying and violence, while also educating students about the role of police. Each year the school district and police department meet and discuss how programs could continue to grow and improve.

Other youth engagement programs include hosting events like basketball tournaments, teaching DARE in elementary schools, and having police officers attend school-sponsored events to increase interaction. All of this was done with the intent of fostering relationships and positive contact with the police both early and often.

columheightsPerhaps the most impactful program that the police department has instituted is a school-based mentoring program in partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters of the Greater Twin Cities. Under this program, adult mentors dedicate an hour a week to meeting with a matched “little” providing guidance, support and mentoring. This program started with around a half-dozen police volunteers in 2012 and has now grown to include almost 40 volunteers from the police department, fire department, city hall and the community at large. This is a great testament to the value our community places on helping youth to thrive.

Since 2008 and the start of these programs, officers have increased the dedicated hours of community policing programming from 10 to 25. In 2015, Columbia Heights officers surpassed the mandatory hours by spending an average of 60 hours per officer for the year. The Columbia Heights Police Department is able to accomplish so much in the way of juvenile outreach because of our community policing philosophy – it is everyone’s job and not just the responsibility of an assigned few.

Results

So what do we reap from this investment of time and resources? Crime is at a 40-year low in Columbia Heights. While many across the country are seeing crime reductions, we are surpassing both state and county measures in terms of our decrease. Of even more importance are the results in our juvenile arrests. In 2008, the year the programs began, we arrested 251 juveniles. In 2015 that number was down to 90. We have also seen much better relationships between our police and youth, both in the schools and on the streets. Our police have a much better understanding of who are youth are and vice-versa. The efforts have also improved employee morale and given our staff a better, more rounded perspective of the youth in our community.

By balancing enforcement activity with more positive experiences, our officers and staff have struck a better balance with our youth and are more aware of how to help them. Our officers understand that arrests and citations are tools, and there are a number of effective ways to assist our youth in a given situation.

For more information on the CHPD, its youth outreach efforts, strategic plans, or studies concerning the effectiveness of our community policing efforts visit the Columbia Heights Police website.

This blog post is part of a series highlighting best practices in advancing 21st century policing as part of the IACP Institute for Community-Police Relations, particularly those that address recommendations from the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing final report. The Institute is funded through the U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services and the Motorola Solutions Foundation. Learn more about the ICPR.

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