Answering the Call to Mentor: 21st Century Policing through Youth Engagement

Use of excessive force. It is a phrase that was once ambiguous yet is thrust more deeply into the public eye and consciousness with each passing day. With every new allegation against a law enforcement agency—or an individual officer—public scrutiny sharpens and the public’s list of questions and concerns lengthens. Gone are the days of blind trust in and implied respect for law enforcement as recent actions and events (in Ferguson, Missouri; Baltimore, Maryland; Cleveland, Ohio; and elsewhere) have led to a spreading distrust of law enforcement and a growing rift between individual officers and the civilians they are sworn to serve and protect.

This distrust is a train that is gaining momentum with each passing day. Throughout many cities, the list of young victims continues to grow. Use of force incidents involving youth in Ferguson, Baltimore, Cleveland, and most recently McKinney, Texas, have sparked national protests and outcry against what is often viewed as a systematic pattern of police brutality. These encounters highlight an increased lack of trust between minority youth and law enforcement across the country. And locked at the core of these incidents are the minority youth themselves, who often respond with a volatile mix of violence and civil disobedience.

A national call to invest in the lives of youth developed into President Barack Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative for government work groups to enact positive change for the future of young minority men. Following this call, President Obama convened the President’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing, which reviewed current law enforcement practices and made recommendations for reform. This increased focus on law enforcement practices has caused cities across the United States to evaluate police-community relationships, particularly relationships with youth.

In 2014, the Arlington (Texas) Police Department developed a research team to examine offenses related to juveniles. Partners included the Arlington Independent School District (ISD) and Arlington Municipal Court. Research revealed that from 2012 to 2014 the Arlington Municipal Court dealt with 2,710 offenses committed by juveniles between the ages of 12 and 15 years. African-American and Hispanic young men committed an average of 75 percent of the offenses with a majority of the offenses occurring in east Arlington. Approximately 50 percent of those offenses were assault related. Statistics show an increase in criminal activity and recidivism as juveniles increase in age.1 The research team concluded that increased proactive youth engagement was needed to address juvenile recidivism with a focus on African-American and Hispanic boys between the ages of 12 and 14 years.

So the Arlington Police Department developed a mentoring program called Mentoring Arlington Youth (MAY). The MAY program incorporates law enforcement, educators, faith-based groups, and community leaders, mentoring 7th and 8th grade young men at Workman Junior High School. The focus of the MAY program incorporates 21st-century policing practices through mentoring in a way that builds trust, improves awareness, shapes skill sets, and enhances legitimacy. This 18-month program offers exciting, interactive workshops on leadership, team building, education, and career development. The journey is supported through positive interaction, problem-based learning, and positive behavior support creating sustainable relationships.

In October of 2015, MAY began with its first cohort of 10 mentors and 10 mentees. During the initial eight weeks, the research team collected and evaluated statistical data to measure the effectiveness of the program. The following outline indicates the research that was conducted and the outcomes.

  • Can juvenile recidivism be reduced through mentoring?
  • Does law enforcement mentoring build legitimacy in communities of color?
  • Does law enforcement mentoring increase minority youths interest in policing?
  • Can law enforcement mentoring decrease police bias in communities of color?
  • Can positive youth engagement increase academic performance?

Family Challenges

The MAY program is committed to community collaborations to address the needs of the mentees. Their parents are an integral part of the collaboration. When beginning the MAY program, parents were managing a host of family dynamics such as

  • learning difficulties of the mentee (43 percent);
  • mentee needing help with school work (86 percent);
  • truancy—missing whole school days at least one time per week (14 percent);
  • families involves with Child Protective Services (14 percent);
  • mentee having medical issues (14 percent).

By the end of the first eight weeks, the parents report the following:

  • The MAY program has helped their son (100 percent).
  • The MAY program has helped their son make better decisions (50 percent).
  • The MAY program addressed issues specifically related to minority men and boys (100 percent).
  • The mentee’s behavior has improved (66 percent).
  • The MAY program helped improve communication between parent and the mentee (100 percent).

The parents were excited about the mentees’ participation in the program. Sixty-seven percent of the parents report their son having access to a positive role model is what they liked the most about the MAY program.
Impact on the Perception of the Police

The MAY program has impacted the mentees’ perception of the police through positive interaction, awareness, and building trust.

  • When the MAY program began, 89 percent of the mentees were excited about the opportunity to participate in the MAY program. By the end of the first eight weeks of mentoring, 100 percent of the mentees reported that they were excited about participating in the MAY program.
  • 89 percent of the mentees report that “learning what police officers do” is what they like most about the program.
  • When the program began, 44 percent of the mentees reported that they trusted police officers. By the end of the first eight weeks, 100 percent of the mentees reported that they trust police officers.
  • When the program began, 67 percent of the mentors believed police officers help the community; by the end of the first eight weeks, 100 percent of the mentors believe police officers help the community.

Impact on the Community

  • Arlington ISD reported more than 30 phone calls from parents wanting to sign their children up for the program.
  • The Arlington Police Department received more than 20 contacts from people interested in assisting with the program.
  • The Texas Education Agency expressed interest in the collaborative aspect of the program with a view to expanding into other school districts.
  • The Arlington NAACP acknowledged the program as a key component in government leadership.

Impact on Recidivism

Upon beginning the program

  • 22 percent of the mentees had received at least one citation from law enforcement; by the end of the first eight weeks of the program, none of the mentees had received a citation while in the program;
  • school administrators reported that 50 percent of the mentees had multiple visits to the principal’s office; while in the program, only 10 percent of the mentees had even one visit to the principal’s office.

Impact on Education

  • Eight weeks after beginning the program, participants had an 11 percent improvement in grades. The eight weeks encompassed one Arlington ISD reporting period.
  • Upon beginning the program, 78 percent of the mentees reported that they respected their school staff and environment; by the end of eight weeks, 89 percent reported that they respect the school staff/environment.
  • Upon beginning the program, 67 percent of the mentees had received discipline referrals; by the end of the first eight weeks, 22 percent of the mentees had received discipline referrals while in the program.

Throughout the first eight weeks of the program, teachers and school administrators reported that they were seeing the change in the mentees. Their behavior has improved, and they are more respectful of staff, one another, themselves, and other students.

Impact on Mentors

  • 75 percent of the mentors rate the MAY program as excellent.
  • 100 percent of the mentors report that they would serve again as a mentor.
  • 87.5 percent of the mentors reported that the mentor training helped them prepare for the experience.
  • 100 percent of the mentors reported that they gained from the mentoring experience.
  • 100 percent of the mentors acknowledged that mentoring enhanced their knowledge of issues youth are facing, which will assist in their policing efforts.

The truth is that we are often not ready for the moments that change us—the ones that will define who we are today and who we will strive to be in the future. The MAY program was designed to intervene with Arlington’s at-risk minority youth in an effort to reduce repeat offenses and create new opportunities within a targeted community. The results were far beyond what anyone could have predicted and fostered a level of connection that shocked participants on both sides.

If we hope to reach the youth that no one else is reaching, we must be willing to try things that no one else is doing. The MAY program is bridging this gap and significantly improving relationships between the Arlington Police Department and local minority youth. Within the initial eight weeks, the program has expanded our understanding of what we should consider possible and has left us all excited about the future and the endless possibilities it holds. Because at the end of the day, we are all our brothers’ keepers, and the officers of the Arlington Police Department stand ready and willing to answer that call.

Lieutenant Tarrick McGuire
Arlington (Texas) Police Department


1 For example, see

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