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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
Research has shown that using preventative methods such as early childhood interventions to address at risk youth behavior before young people enter the juvenile criminal justice system is more effective and cost efficient than past approaches focused primarily on remediating visible or longstanding disruptive behavior.1 A positive youth development (PYD) model is used to address the risk factors and needs of youth who may have a heightened risk of becoming justice involved. Youth.gov describes the PYD model as “an intentional, prosocial approach that engages youth within their communities, schools, organizations, peer groups, and families in a manner that is productive and constructive; recognizes, utilizes, and enhances young people’s strengths; and promotes positive outcomes for young people by providing opportunities, fostering positive relationships, and furnishing the support needed to build on their leadership strengths.”2 Organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club Metropolitan Baltimore (BGCMB), the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, and the National Police Athletic League (National PAL) have been working to engage at-risk youth to address behaviors that lead to involvement in the criminal justice system as juveniles and decrease the likelihood of youth offenders becoming adult offenders.
A large part of engagement is the development of strong and meaningful partnerships. Partnerships are important because they lay the groundwork for long-term engagement and impactful interactions. A key partnership that these organizations have focused on is the relationship with law enforcement and corrections agencies. BGCMB has invited law enforcement to special events, Family Night and New Member Orientation, and as guest speakers for various programs. The organization cultivates these relationships through regular communication with Community Officers and the Sherriff’s Department. Currently, the organization is implementing a program that allows youth and law enforcement to gain a better understanding of one another and provides an opportunity for law enforcement to hear directly from youth about how they view their communities, the same communities officers are assigned to protect.
The Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation has developed strategies to partner with law enforcement and work with youth in the Badges for Baseball program. These strategies include structuring relationships that focus on the needs of youth in a team setting; fostering caring, supportive relationships through celebrating the individual; encouraging youth to develop to their fullest potential and develop personal accountability using the curriculum to discuss the choices each person has the power to make; and providing opportunities to practice the social and emotional skills needed for success. The foundation also helps youth to develop their own vision for the future through discussions on goal setting and choosing one’s future and exposing youth to multiple pathways, including college and careers in law enforcement or the military. Last, the foundation uses Badges for Baseball as a means to develop active community partnerships between law enforcement officers and youth to help build healthy, positive relationships.
National PAL has built great relationships with law enforcement agencies nationwide and has become a leader in engaging kids, cops, and communities through its ability to develop relationships and trust in the course of 100 years. All these organizations recognize the integral role of partnerships with law enforcement and have used them in their youth engagement models.
In addition to these organizations’ missions to build strong partnerships, they have worked to develop programs to reduce recidivism for justice-involved and at-risk youth. One of BGCMB’s priorities is increasing protective factors (such as improved social competencies, commitment to school and community, and positive relationships with law enforcement and other adults) and reducing risk factors (such as positive attitudes to drugs and gang involvement, interaction with the juvenile justice system and association with antisocial peers) for at-risk and high-risk youth in Baltimore, particularly those exposed to Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE). To accomplish this risk reduction, BGCMB engages at-risk youth ages 6–18 through educational activities and targeted outreach that engages law enforcement agencies, community-based organizations, parents, and youth. These are evidence-based engagement programs such as Passport to Manhood, SMART Girls, Targeted Outreach, My Future, Torch Club, Healthy Habits, and Career Launch.
The Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation uses its weekly, year-round, signature juvenile crime and youth mentoring program, Badges for Baseball, to reduce recidivism in youth. Badges for Baseball, developed in partnership with the U.S. Department of Justice, connects at-risk youth with law enforcement mentors through healthy, positive activities using a discussion-based curriculum that teaches kids critical life skills that help them be successful in life. The out-of-school activities improve relationships between law enforcement and kids as they learn about cooperation, accountability, collaboration, and mutual respect.
National PAL and its programs focus on the use of group mentoring initiatives with dedicated and committed law enforcement officers as well as concerned and well-intentioned volunteers from the community. The mentor-based programs select from an array of experience-based and reputable mentor curriculums to interface with the attending young people. Having strong partnerships with many law enforcement agencies across the country who are committed and diligent in engaging with youth provides an environment for meaningful engagement. Last, National PAL uses group sessions that include youth and law enforcement to allow both groups to learn from one another. These sessions allow law enforcement partners to see that youth should be judged individually on their own merits and allow youth and law enforcement to develop trust. These organizations’ use of strategies that address at-risk behavior helps to improve communities and reduce the likelihood of youth becoming justice-involved and the risk of recidivism for delinquent youth.
Trust is a cornerstone of the relationship-building efforts when addressing at-risk behavior. Without the development of trust, youth are unlikely to connect with mentors or consider the flaws in their current behaviors. It is also important for families of at-risk youth to trust the efforts of engagement programs to truly facilitate meaningful change in the community. BGCMB understands the importance of trust and works to maintain a staff of caring professional adults. Selection of appropriate staff sets the stage for trust-building between at-risk youth, their families, and the community. The organization recognizes that youth want to know that people genuinely care and have found that targeted and genuine interactions have been instrumental in building trust.
Like BGCMB, the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation recognizes the importance of trust and how targeted engagement helps to build trust. Because of the continued exposure to law enforcement officers through the Badges for Baseball program, the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation’s program partners have seen an improvement in social competencies in youth including improved relationships with law enforcement, increased feelings of self-efficacy, and an increased focus on living an overall healthier lifestyle.
National PAL recognizes the need for targeted engagement opportunities, considering at-risk youth to be “Youth of Promise.” National PAL believes that shifting the language when engaging youth helps to change the relationship, creating an environment for uplifting and encouragement. Through this environment, they can develop the trust needed to lead youth toward success and accomplishment.
To truly impact the community, organizations like BGCMB, the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, and National PAL have been able to amplify the work they do to support at-risk and justice-involved youth, and all these organizations recognize the impact of their relationship with the COPS Office. For BGCMB, the partnership has allowed the organization to learn and understand more about childhood trauma and toxic stress and has supported their growing relationship with local and statewide law enforcement. Through its COPS Office award, the organization has created opportunities for law enforcement to engage with youth and engage with staff during professional development days and trauma response trainings. The trainings have provided law enforcement with an opportunity to learn about youth and adolescent brain development alongside club staff members, and the cooperative learning environment increases community trust in addition to providing vital information for law enforcement to work with and interact with youth in the community. In addition, through its COPS Office award BGCMB has been able to expand programs like Handle with Care to other Boys & Girls Clubs throughout the state of Maryland with additional support and leadership from the Governor’s Office of Crime Prevention and Youth & Victim Services.
Through its partnership with the COPS Office, the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation has been able to continue building and maintaining relationships with law enforcement agencies in addition to expanding the Badges for Baseball program, allowing the organization to impact more than 40,000 at-risk youth and more than 200 communities.
The partnership with the COPS Office has allowed National PAL to work to positively impact the declining relationship with law enforcement in communities. The organization is able to highlight the work of committed law enforcement officers within National PAL chapters and across the country. With the publicization of many events in the media, National PAL recognizes that trust building starts within the community, and its relationship with the COPS Office has allowed it to demonstrate that positive relationships with law enforcement are possible and that law enforcement officers are having a positive impact on youth in their communities.
Training & Partner Engagement Division
Social Science Analyst
Resources & Technical Assistance Division
1 “Prevention & Early Intervention,” Youth.gov, accessed May 21, 2021, https://youth.gov/youth-topics/juvenile-justice/prevention-and-early-intervention
2 "Positive Youth Development,” Youth.gov, accessed April 6, 2021, https://youth.gov/youth-topics/positive-youth-development
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