- Most people meet a cop on a negative basis....but,
Boston Cops and Teens are finding Common Ground. Despite having a
history of racial tension, Boston has avoided crises like we’ve seen in
other places. When the Center for Teen Empowerment moved into the
Dorchester neighborhood of Boston about 7 years ago, gang and gun
violence was widespread. Dorchester still struggles with crime, but
today, youth there are now part of the solution.
said he’s been stopped by police hundreds of times but has never been
arrested. There was a time when things might have gone very differently
He had dropped out of school, was homeless, and was
considering selling drugs. When asked what stopped him, he said,
“There’s no love on these streets. You know there are only 3 ways. It’s
either die, go to jail, or change,” Dante said. It has been a tough
life for Dante, but he is now back at school working to graduate this
Dante is a youth leader for the nonprofit Teen
Empowerment that brings together teens and police in Boston to talk. They engage in some pretty non-traditional ways, and it’s disarming
for both sides.
This program gathered gang members, sworn enemies
and brokered a peace deal. In the mid-‘90s for 29 months, not a single
person under the age of 21 was killed on the streets.
“One of the
things that took place was that there was belief in young people and
there was an investment in young people as leaders… and young people
were paid to be agents of change by working to make their community
peaceful,” said Stanley Pollack (founder of he program).
From 2015 to
2016, in the parts of the city where the program operates, homicides
have remained flat; but, throughout Boston, homicides went up 36%.
sees these teens as the agents of change. “It begins not because they
have a problem, but because they have something to offer,” Pollack
They’re paid to organize events and recruit new members,
including police officers.
He and Officer Crossen are not naïve.
The faces of dead, un-armed black males killed by police, and men in
blue killed on the job, run through their minds every day. “I want to go
home to my family just as much as anybody else wants to go home to
theirs,” Officer Crossen said.
Still, what’s happening here is what
they believe has freed Boston from the fate of so many other cities.
how me and Zach are, how I can sit down and have a conversation with an
officer you know…if there happens to be a time where I have to be
stopped, you know there’s not going to be that hostility, because you
know, okay, that’s Dante, we’re on common ground,” Dante said.
(Source: “How teens and Boston cops are finding common ground,” A More
Perfect Union, CBS News correspondent Michelle Miller, CBS This Morning,
January 4, 2017)
- Coffee with a Cop is a program
aimed at improving community relations. Since 2011 in Charleston, South
Carolina, cops have coffee with citizens. The conversation is simple -
sitting down over coffee with no agenda, just talking to people. There
is a divisiveness in society between police and the community. This
program changes the mindset of “us versus them.” There are days when
officers will handle 20-30 911 calls in one shift, which doesn’t leave a
lot of down time to connect and talk to people at your normal
mini-mart. Cops can go an entire day without having a calm conversation
with anyone, even an entire week. Few people ever talk to cops. “A
lot of people are afraid; they don’t trust police; and talking to them
makes them a little more human. They are people just like you and I.”
Officers are asked to take coffee breaks to take the time to talk to the
people. The people come to see the cops as neighbors and stake holders
in the same community. The Coffee with a Cop program is funded by the
Division of the Dept. of Justice, and is now part of 650 law enforcement
agencies in 47 states. Charleston police have adopted the program as a
regular part of their community outreach, to establish a relationship
and bond so the community becomes stronger and they will have the trust
in their police to tell them what is going on.
CBS news reporter
Gayle King then remarked, “FBI Director James Comey said in a recent
interview that it is hard to hate somebody close up. This is a perfect
example of that.” (Coffee with a Cop, CBS This Morning, February 16, 2015)