Police Recruits Learn From Youth Service Providers

Police recruits in classroomMultnomah County is often on the cutting edge of innovation for juvenile detention reform. Innovations in training the city’s police force to work with youth is another example of out-of-the-box thinking.

Multnomah’s internship for police recruits, called the “Community Academy,” focuses on youth and juvenile justice, as well as its case processing agreement, all make it a national standout. And that’s only part of the story: Multnomah’s success in reducing the number of youth referred to formal processing and detention distinguish Multnomah County’s approach to policing and working with at risk youth in the nation.

Recruits Learn How to Work with Juveniles Mano-a-Mano

On any given day in Portland, you may find a police recruit conducting intake or looking for a runaway. The recruit placements include Janus Homeless Shelter for Youth, Outside In, and New Avenues for Youth.


To date, over 50 police recruits have gone through this internship prior to attending the Police Academy. The internship lasts approximately 7 days but may be extended in the future due to the overwhelming request of other community providers who want to be involved in the Community Academy.

Lt. Virtue reports that many recruits “feel they are in a better place than they were prior to the internship” and that it has expanded their understanding of the challenges youth face and the scope of alternatives available to them.

This approach, is in line with recruits interests when they arrive at the PPB: “Their first impulse is to want to be helpful,” explained Lt. Virtue. These opportunities help young officers learn the importance of policing through partnering with community leaders and experts and the long lasting importance of building relationships with youth.

“We think this has been a huge success,” said Rick Jensen, Multnomah County Juvenile Detention Alternative Coordinator who recommended that other police departments adopt this innovative approach.

During the Community Academy recruits are given a week long, intensive training on youth issues. The topics covered include “Adolescent Brain Development & the Goofy Kid Syndrome,” gangs, homelessness, child sex trafficking and school issues.

Tina Edge, the Juvenile Detention Alternative Initiative Coordinator Assistant teaches recruits about the negative impacts of detention and promotes the value of police taking the opportunity to understand youth.

“The main focus of this partnership is designed to teach new police officers how the juvenile justice system works as well as a variety of community policing skills,” she explained. “We do this by placing police interns into community service organizations early in their careers and exposing them to the types of complex social issues that they will face in the field. This also helps us work in partnership with police, community service providers to strategize ways to improve how the system works to promote public safety.”

Tom Cleary, Senior District Attorney agrees. “This program also allows for youth to see police in a different way and hopefully develop methods of communication that will aid in avoiding formal involvement in the delinquency system.”

More information on SIRN (System Integration & Resource Network) formerly Community Academy.

Stakeholders in the Multnomah Juvenile Justice world recognized that the use of detention was problematic. Too often, the use of detention with young offenders became an inadvertent source of recidivism, an the use of formal court processing for minor offenses seemed to result in more youth being pushed deeper into the system. With the support of the Casey Foundation and its focus on creating alternatives to detention, they regrouped, developed partnerships, and systems that are showing impressive results.

The first step was getting the stakeholders to the table to develop an agreed upon “decision tree” for dealing with cases using an approach that integrates an evaluation of the legal sufficiency of a police complaint with a case-by-case determination of what responses best meet individual youth’s needs. Known as the Case Processing Agreement, this approach has impressively reduced the number of youth prosecuted, allowing DAs to focus their energies and effort on the most serious cases and reduce the use of detention for youth charged with minor offenses. Read Multnomah County Case Processing Agreement [PDF]

Senior District Attorney Tom Cleary is an ardent proponent of this approach. “The case processing agreement is a living document that furthers our intent to have “the right kid in the right place,” he explained. “The intent of all system partners is to create a system that provides for the appropriate level of intervention as required for public safety and successful development of the youth.”

Like the Clayton County ticketing system featured on SFY’s Promising Practices earlier this year, police and then DA’s and the Juvenile Community Justice department triage charges against youth and whether to proceed to formal or informal processing. Under this approach, there is explicit agreement about which misdemeanors are divertible (i.e. simple assault, shoplifting), and which are not (i.e. sex offenses, firearm possession, assaulting an officer). The agreement structures how exceptions to the rule must be considered, and which offenses require special attention and review. The agreement also sets forth the benefits of informal processing.

The result is a system in which there is a transparent logic and criteria for decision making—but not at the cost of practitioners’ use of discretion.

One unusual feature of this approach is its focus on domestic violence charges brought against youth. While many domestic violence charges are misdemeanors, the team focuses on the extent of injury, the gravity, and the threat of ongoing violence in each of these cases to determine whether it merits informal or formal processing. This has helped stakeholders focus on what may explain a youth’s behavior and how to address its root causes.

The result, Rick Jensen says, is “proof of the power of stakeholders working together, communicating with each other and creating a collaborative safety net for these youth.”