The President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing offers several recommendations for building trust and creating opportunities for positive nonenforcement interactions with youth including
- Restoring and building trust between youth and police through positive, consistent, and persist
- Working with community members to collaborate on implementing solutions that produce public safety
- Adopting programs that address the needs of youth most at risk for crime or violence
When law enforcement officers collaborate with the community their abilities and resources expand greatly. For the at-risk youth of Camden County, New Jersey, that increase in effectiveness manifests through the Project Guardian Program. The Project Guardian Program is a diversion program that works with at-risk youth who have involvement with violence or illegal activity. Since the program’s implementation last year, 600 youth have gone through the program.
At-risk youth, police officers, counselors, and social workers, come together with city residents who have escaped a life of crime for special events. At these events, an interpersonal connection is made, and the teens learn about life skills training, support services, and resources available to them to help them avoid a life of violence and crime. This proactive interaction provides encouragement for those most at risk. The non-enforcement aspect of the events is elevated through service activities. Earlier this year, participants made blankets to send to a local hospital for sick children. The youth were excited about the opportunity to give back and were able to open up while making the blankets. The service activity allowed for true interpersonal connections to be made between the youth and the police as well as the youth and the social workers and counselors.
The Camden County Police Department understands there are effective and creative alternatives to arrest and incarceration, particularly for youth. The Project Guardian Program is helping change the way communities and police interact by developing positive relations with community youth.
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. Camden County is one of fifteen sites selected for participation in the Advancing 21st Century Policing Initiative, a joint project of the COPS Office, CNA, and the IACP to highlight agencies who are actively embracing the principles in the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing.