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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
The COPS Office is pleased to feature the May 2017 winner of the Community Policing in Action Photo Contest: the Arlington (TX) Police Department. The winning photo features Cpl. Damien Gary teaching a young man how tie a necktie during the Mentoring Arlington Youth Program “Dress for Success” workshop.
When Isaiah Austin was picked up from school early on a Monday afternoon in a police van, it wasn’t because he had done something wrong. It was because he had done something right. Isaiah was one of ten young men selected to participate in the first class of Mentoring Arlington Youth (MAY), a program developed by the Arlington Police Department (APD) in partnership with the City of Arlington Municipal Court and the Arlington Independent School District. On that particular Monday afternoon, Austin was leaving school early to participate in an interview with Department of Justice’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office).
“It’s usual and a cool thing at the same time,” Austin responded when asked if it was unusual for him to be picked up from school in the police van. “It’s something other people don’t get to do.”
Austin’s mentor, Sgt. Vincent Pewitt picked him up from school that Monday, as he has done many times before. He and Austin have developed a special bond since meeting through the MAY Program in 2015. “I’ve gained a new friend,” said Pewitt.
The MAY Program was the brainchild of a group of APD officers, led by Chief Will Johnson, who realized the importance of male mentors in the lives of young men living without their fathers. As of the 2010 census, 15% of all of the households in Arlington had a female householder and no husband present.1 The MAY Program, which launched in 2015, serves as a resource for some of those households.
In the MAY Program, young African-American and Hispanic men are partnered with APD officers for a minimum of 18 months to work on leadership, team building, education, and career development skills. Participants attend organized workshops and events, but also receive something greater, which is direct access to APD officers who are committed to their success.
Pewitt, who has been with the department for twenty years, shared that his role in the MAY Program is about much more than just being a mentor. “It’s not just a one day event, it’s a commitment,” he said. “We’ve built a relationship and it’s been fun. I have a relationship with his [Austin’s] mom and his sister now, too.”
Pewitt said that there are so many opportunities for teaching moments with Austin. “I’ll tell you a quick story. Just today after picking him up from school, we were having a conversation about what to do when you meet a young lady. I told him I think it is important that as you are trying to meet a young lady, you try to remember the young lady’s name. Certain things are important. I think he understands that now and I don’t think he’ll forget it,” Pewitt laughed.
For Austin, whose father is not present in the household, Pewitt provides guidance and stability in a way that he may not have experienced without the MAY Program. “I think of Sgt. Pewitt as just part of my life now because I never really had a man in my life to fill that role of a mentor. I talk to him on a regular basis. I know a lot about him and he knows a lot about me. It makes me feel good.”
The day the winning photo was taken, MAY Program participants were attending a “Dress for Success” workshop at a local store. Cheryel Carpenter of APD’s media office was there that evening taking photos. “We were documenting the success of the program to show the interactions between police and young men. There was so much to photograph. I moved from one spot to the next. They boys were all over the place. They were excited. I just moved around grabbing photos. It was good to see that network and that relationship building,” she said.
Pewitt was not able to attend that particular event, so without hesitation, Cpl. Damien Gary assisted Austin. It was a critical moment for both Austin and Gary, as the MAY Program teaches young men that learning how to tie a necktie is critical to building self-respect and confidence.
Gary, who has served with the APD for nine years, is also a MAY Program mentor who says the program has changed his life. “This program has changed my life, knowing that I’m changing someone’s life. People call you and they expect you to have an answer. You have to explain to them how to handle things. I look at life differently now just from being in this program. Hopefully, they [MAY Program participants] will be able to do the same.”
Austin has now learned tie his own necktie without any assistance. “My grandfather tried to teach me before, but it was kind of complicated,” he laughed.
The MAY Program has received national recognition, winning the COPS Office 2016 L. Anthony Sutin Civic Imagination Award.
The COPS Office congratulates the Arlington Police Department for being one of the 12 winners of the COPS Office 2017 Community Policing in Action Photo Contest and for its commitment to community policing.
Written with contributions from Arlington Police Department Sgt. Vincent Pewitt, Cpl. Damien Gary, and Mentoring Arlington Youth Program Participant Isaiah Austin. Photo courtesy of Cheryel Carpenter, Arlington Police Department Media Office.
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