Archive for the Blog Category

Police and Teenagers: What We Need To Know About Each Other

Captain Nick Frances (Apple Valley, MN, police department) recently co-wrote an article for the Journal of School Safety with Grace Richarda, a local high school teen. The article offers advice, from both perspectives, about how to better understand and communicate with each other.

We live in a changing and evolving world, made even more complex by the advent of digital communication. While teens may prefer to communicate digitally or “virtually,” in the police world, a vast majority of contact happens face to face. Each group has it’s own cultural norms that the other might not fully understand or appreciate. With some solid communication and an open mind, teens and police can get along and even appreciate each other.

Read the full article (PDF) »
(Reprinted with permission of the author.)










Cambridge Safety Net Collaborative: A Community-based Approach To SROs

Cambridge Safety Net Collaborative Logo

The fall issue of School Safety, a NASRO publication, features an article by John Rosiak about how the Cambridge (MA) Police Department is effectively diverting youth from the justice system through an innovative program called Cambridge Safety Net Collaborative. The Safety Net Collaborative brings together SROs, community service providers, schools, and families in a coordinated approach that focuses on prevention, early intervention, and diversion.

Read the full article by John Rosiak (PFD) »
(Reprinted with permission of NASRO and John Rosiak.)


Youth + Sports + Dedicated Police Officer = T.U.F.F. “The Ultimate Family Foundation”

Youth + Sports + Dedicated Police Officer = T.U.F.F. “The Ultimate Family Foundation”

Virginia Beach, Virginia is known for its beautiful beaches and boardwalk along the Atlantic Ocean. And, like many American cities, it is filled with children living in poverty and violence. It is also home to a remarkable community program for youth at-risk created by a Master Police Officer in the Virginia Beach Police Department.

037-vs. steelers playoffs 142 - CopyOne Saturday afternoon in 2007, Master Police Officer David Nieves and his wife, Nayla, took their excited 12-year-old son to his first practice of the Green Run Recreation League football team in Virginia Beach, VA. They arrived to find 12 other waiting children in total disarray, with no coach and no plan. In quick order, Officer Nieves also became Coach David, and Nayla Nieves became chief organizer, volunteer recruiter, cook and cheerleader. The nervous 12 year olds became The Spartans who soon won the Recreation League Football Championship of Virginia Beach.

Master Officer Nieves also quickly determined that these at-risk children needed to know more than the basics of football. Many of them lived in families teetering on disaster. He and Nayla developed a full program of goal setting, community service and building self-esteem for the team. Some children needed food, shelter and tutoring at points during their four-month season. Providing for these basic needs were also incorporated into the program.

Season begins with a camping trip, 4 days of waking before 5 AM to run on the beach at sunrise, team exercises and nutritional instruction. In order to earn their football jerseys, team members also plan community service activities to perform once the camping trip has ended.

“We try to instill in these youngsters that they are valuable kids, “ said Master Office Nieves. “They can make a real contribution to their neighborhood just by picking up trash and cleaning up empty lots. And their parents and younger siblings often join in.

“Once the boys get their Spartan jerseys, they know they are wearing a real sign of respect for the community and a commitment to their team,” he said.

Now an organization of 200 kids and more than 35 adult volunteers, TUFF helps children deal DSC_0020with issues such as single parent homes, anger, hunger, loneliness, gang recruitment, homelessness.  It also takes children on field trips to their state capital, Richmond, to meet their delegates and to learn that they, too, can look to a future of a being a member of the House of Delegates. All they have to do is live the fundamentals taught by their coach.   This extraordinary program, begun by a police officer and his family, has garnered The Freedom Foundation at Valley Forge National Award. TUFF has applied for 501(c) 3 status.

Not incidentally, the Spartans have won 13 combined football championships from all age groups since 2007. Watch them win a championship by clicking here.

Strategies for Youth salutes the vision, commitment and humanity of Officer David Nieves and his volunteers for the community-building they’ve achieved with young people and the communities of Virginia Beach.

Kids, Cops & Confessions: Inside the Interrogation Room

In Indianapolis, a teenager was asked to explain his rights to an arresting officer. “I know my rights. I have the right to say whatever I want,” he replied.


This misinterpretation of Miranda rights is not uncommon. According to Dr. Barry Feld,“Many juveniles – especially those 15 years of age and younger – do not understand the words or rights contained in the Miranda warning.”

In order to better understand this phenomenon, Feld went to a place very few juvenile justice advocates have been allowed to enter: the interrogation room. Since 1995, Minnesota has required police to record all interrogations. It is one of only three states where such recordings are required for all custodial interrogations.  A few more states require it for homicide interrogations or very young offenders.

Feld’s Unique Research

County attorneys there gave Feld unrestricted access to files on all felony cases involving 16- and 17-year-old offenders. He then narrowed his sample by selecting only the cases where a youth invoked Miranda  or where a youth waived and there was a transcript or recording of the interrogation.

Feld’s is only the second empirical study of interrogations since Miranda was decided in 1966 – and the first involving juveniles.  Feld analyzed 307 recordings and transcripts of police questioning teenagers. The results of this analysis, as well as the policy recommendations to which they led, are presented in Feld’s new book: Kids, Cops & Confessions: Inside the Interrogation Room (NYU Press 2013).

  • In 90% of the cases Feld analyzed, juvenile suspects waived their Miranda rights and chose to answer police questions, often incriminating themselves in the process.
  • In most of these cases, once a waiver had been obtained, police questioned youth using the same psychological techniques they would use on an adult suspect.
  • The majority of the kids in question confessed, and an additional third gave police some incriminating information.
  • While parents were present in some of the interrogations, their presence rarely resulted in greater protection of their children’s constitutional rights. In fact, in most cases, Feld found that parents sided with the police in questioning, and urged their children to tell the police everything they knew.

Feld’s Recommendations for Best Practices

Given these startling findings, how then do we balance the right of the police to interrogate a suspect with a child’s right against self-incrimination? Feld offers several recommendations for future best practices:

  • Mandatory assistance of counsel for suspects under age 15. Children 15 years and younger are rarely able to understand their rights, let alone assert them. In these tense interrogations, parents often cannot or do not act to protect their children’s constitutional rights, and police have a different agenda entirely. Having an attorney in the room from the start ensures that police interrogations of youthful offenders meet constitutional requirements.
  • Mandatory recording of all interviews. Right now, only Alaska, Wisconsin and Minnesota require recording of all police interrogations, with about half a dozen other states requiring recording for only the most serious offenses.  With inexpensive and readily available technology, Feld believes that recording police interviews will allow for greater objectivity, transparency and accountability in the justice system.
  • Time limits on police interrogations. According to Feld’s findings, interrogations that elicit false confessions usually last more than six hours, with the likelihood of a false confession increasing as the length of questioning increases. This suggests that one way to protect the rights of juveniles while simultaneously enhancing the accuracy of the information received is to simply limit the length of time police are questioning kids.

To read more of Dr. Barry Feld’s insight into the inner workings of police interrogations, visit: Kids, Cops & Confessions: Inside the Interrogation Room. And for more information on juvenile interviews and interrogations, including best practices for law enforcement, check out Reducing Risks: An Executive’s Guide to Effective Juvenile Interview and Interrogation published by the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

Counting Kids: The Value of Data Collection for Policing Youth Effectively

Data, Data, Data!

Sergeant. Schwob“If law enforcement expect the public to not only understand but support our efforts,” said Sergeant David Schwob of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, “the more information we give out, the more they will understand and support what we do.”

For the past five years, Sergeant Schwob has been collecting data – lots of data – about the CMPD’s effectiveness in Charlotte, North Carolina. “I’m a numbers oriented person anyway,” he said, “ but when it comes to getting funding, or manpower, or anything I need to expand the effectiveness of the program, you need to have something to back it up.”

Hoping to accurately capture CMPD school resource officers’ performance in the Charlotte public school system, Sergeant Schwob began collecting data by hand, and continued to do so for his first few years in the school resource program.

At first it was slow going, he said; but when Chief Rodney Monroe was appointed head of the CMPD in 2008, a new emphasis was placed on data throughout the department and Sergeant Schwob found himself ahead of the curve.

“With command staff support,” he said, “we were able to grow into what we are now, and we’re taking that to a new level.” Recent data collection initiatives are focused on disproportionate minority contact and diversion, both priorities of Chief Monroe.

What You Can Do With the Information

Sergeant Schwob is now focused on not only the number of arrests, but on who is being arrested and why.  Schwob’s analysis led him to conclude that 49% of school-based arrests were for minor offenses, a number that was too high and needed to be addressed. Without his real-time, systematic approach to data collection, Sergeant Schwob would not have been able to develop a strategy for reducing arrests for minor offenses and slowing the effect of the “school to prison” pipeline.

Sergeant Schwob’s careful data collection has  garnered interagency support for the CMPD’s use of diversion with juveniles. Rather than face criminal charges and be sent to juvenile court, some young people end up in “teen court,” a peer to peer mediation tool that many say is much more effective than conventional methods.

“We’re now diverting about 350 kids away from the criminal justice system,” said Sergeant Schwob. “It shows that we’re trying to correct behavior, not just put an arrest on somebody that could dictate their life in a negative way.”

Ultimately, Sergeant Schwob hopes that all of this data – arrests, the demographics of arrest, diversion – will be open and easily accessible to the public. Arrest numbers are already available online and organized by division.

“The data tells the public what we are doing, where their funding goes to, what officers are doing and what their productivity is,” said Sergeant Schwob. “The community wants to understand that the schools are safe and their kids are being taken care of – this information is very important.”

Would you like to learn more about this promising practice? Write to  Sergeant Schwob at

UPDATE (February 25, 2013): Data collection was recently ordered by the New York State legislature in  an effort to better understand the level of school exclusion and school-based arrests occurring in the New York City public schools. The link below describes the provisions of the act and the obligations the New York Police Department and the city’s Department of Education must meet:|Text|&Search=STUDENT+SAFETY

School Resource Officer search screenSchool Resource Officer web page screen

Think About It First! Cards

Sergeant Kenneth GreenAlthough we’d like to, Strategies for Youth can’t take full credit for our Think About It First! cards, pocket-sized tools that warn about the collateral consequences of arrest and involvement in the juvenile justice system. The original idea belongs to Sergeant Kenneth Green of the MBTA Transit Police in Boston.


Stationed for five years at Boston’s Ruggles Station, an inner city subway stop walking distance from two college campuses, Sergeant Green has had plenty of interactions with youth. At Ruggles, he encountered youth who were loud, rowdy, and had a penchant for challenging authority, but he always kept these interactions in perspective.

“You’ve got to remember they’re kids,” he said. “As police officers you try not to take it to heart. They’re immature and we got to keep that in mind.”

During his time at Ruggles, Sergeant Green unknowingly developed what would later become the Think About It First! approach.

“It wasn’t rocket science to think about this,” he said. “Why don’t we let them know what happens if you’re placed under arrest? You want to mature, buy a home, have a family, go in the service – an arrest may prevent you from doing that.”

Looking back, Sergeant Green, who has been promoted to Deputy Chief, says this approach was effective with nine out of the ten kids he came into contact with. “They got the message,” he said.

Now in a supervisory role, Deputy Chief Green views the cards as a great tool for officers in the transit system to build positive relationships with youth, and to give kids a second chance. “In law enforcement you’re supposed to be big tough guys, but we have to remember that we were all kids too,” he said.


“Beyond helping kids, Think About It First! cards have also proved to be an asset for police. In Minnesota, the MN Second Chance Coalition in partnership with the St. Paul Police Department began its Think About It First! initiative, funded by the MN Juvenile Justice Advisory Committee, by distributing the cards to law enforcement during roll calls in St. Paul. They were surprised to find many officers previously unaware of the information on the cards.”

“This is important information for judges and law enforcement to consider,” said Sarah Walker of 180 Degrees, a MN Second Chance Coalition program. “Many officers don’t know the technicalities of the juvenile law.” Walker believes the cards help officers better use their discretion when determining whether or not involving a youth in the juvenile justice system is an appropriate response.

The MN Second Chance Coalition and the St. Paul Police Department have already distributed almost 300,000 cards in Minnesota and plan to bring their message to school posters and city bus stops, as well. The International Association of Chiefs of Police will also feature this Think About It First! initiative at its 2012 convention.


In Indiana, Think About It First! efforts are also off to a running start. Spearheaded by the Indiana State Bar Association (ISBA), this particular initiative builds off the American Bar Association’s Think Before You Plea project. In addition to the cards, the ISBA is also developing juvenile justice fact sheets for youth and families that deal with important issues like expunging juvenile records, and the law on juvenile sex offenses. This important information is being shared statewide at trainings for law enforcement, educators, and other juvenile justice stakeholders, where use of the cards is being promoted.

“So far, we have presented at and distributed cards to a statewide urban education conference, a crisis intervention training (CIT) for school based law enforcement in Marion County, and a statewide juvenile justice training sponsored by NAMI Indiana,” said JauNae Hanger of Waples & Hanger, and the ISBA. “We have plans to present and distribute cards to other professional associations, including Indiana prosecutors and detention center directors.”

And there are plans for even further expansion Hanger says. Thirteen school resource officers have signed up to distribute the cards and two local judges have asked that the cards be replicated in their counties. The ISBA has made the cards available for their use electronically. They are also exploring opportunities with several child-serving organizations statewide, hoping to bring the Think About It First!initiative to the populations they serve. Learn more about Think About It First Indiana.

SFY Can Make Think About It First! Cards for Your Department

At Strategies for Youth we want everybody to be able to use ourThink About It First! cards, so we customize them to each locality. Juvenile law varies from state to state. And even within one state, juvenile interests can be widely divergent too. “Greater Minnesota youth are interested in a felony charge prohibiting them for getting a gun for hunting, city youth don’t have that concern,” noted Walker.

In addition to their specificity Think About It First! cards fit perfectly in a wallet or purse and are easy for youth and professionals to hold onto and refer to frequently. Strategies for Youth has found that many of the youth to whom the cards have been distributed keep them for a long time. Youth also pass along the information on the cards, increasing awareness of the collateral consequences of arrest and involvement in their juvenile justice system among their peers.

So far, the replication of SFY’sThink About It First! cards has been met with much success and many more calls for replication. Strategies for Youth is hopeful that the use of the cards will continue to grow, and is eager to work with anyone who wants to create their own version of the Think About It First! card. There are plans to increase the cards’ distribution and bring their message to other venues.

Learn more about our current Think About It First! efforts or contact us about creating a card for your community.

The SFPD Says “It Gets Better”

San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr has a message for the city’s bullied youth, “I can tell you, it gets better. Everybody has had their moments where they didn’t think it would get better and it did.”

With bullying – especially of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender youth (LGBT) – becoming an increasingly high profile issue, the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) has taken extra steps to reach out to the city’s youth. The police department recently released an eight-minute video – to join the chorus of others produced for Dan Savage’s It Gets Better Project – in which LGBT officers discuss the challenges they faced as youth. And they each say that, for them, it did get better.

“I would say by the age of 5, 6, I already knew that I should kind of keep it on the down low,” said one police officer, featured in the video, of her sexuality. “I didn’t really have any positive gay role models that I thought were out there.”

An LGBT officer from the video“I was a police officer for about four years, thinking that I was the only male, gay police officer in the world,” said a police sergeant featured in the video. “I actually believed that I was the only gay, male police officer in the world.”

“I would’ve missed the first time being held by someone I love,” said Officer Broderick Elton, featured in the video, reflecting the It Gets Better Project’s focus on suicide prevention. “Loving, I would’ve missed experiencing just the joy and jubilation of life, of people who show me amazing new things all the time, new ways to think, and new ways to look at the world,”

Chief Suhr’s interest in making an SFPD video was sparked when his Chief of Staff, Commander Lyn Tomioka, suggested he watch the It Gets Better video produced by the San Francisco Giants, the city’s Major League Baseball team. For Commander Tomioka the project is personal, “I’m a parent of a gay child and was very interested in hopefully getting parents to understand to just accept their children as they are,” she said. When Chief Suhr learned that no police department had ever made a video for the project, he immediately wanted to make the SFPD the first.

An LGBT officer from the videoIt was “a complete, no cost endeavor,” Chief Suhr said of the project, for which all of the participating officers volunteered. There were many more volunteers than were ultimately featured in the video, Chief Suhr said, including straight police officers who were bullied as youth. “It’s a way to remind our next generations how to be kind to one another,” said Commander Tomioka.

Since its debut on February 10, 2012, the video has been viewed more than 165,000 times on YouTube alone.

Even without active outreach efforts to youth, the response from youth and other members of the community has been overwhelming. Chief Suhr says that many people – youth and adults alike – have approached members of the SFPD to say thank you, and that the San Francisco public schools have begun to show the video in some of their classrooms

“It’s going viral,” said Chief Suhr, “and stimulating conversation between kids in all walks of life and officers, and adults in general.”

Chief Suhr said the SFPD plans on maintaining its relationship with San Francisco filmmaker, Shawn Northcutt, and on making more videos in the future – expanding the message beyond LGBT youth. He also encourages other police departments to make videos of their own, and to encourage officers to speak to youth in their element. “Anything that makes things better for youth,” he said.

“I will help you and I will protect you and I will listen,” says a female police officer at the end of the video. “Things start getting better as soon as you reach out to other people. You need to know that you’re okay, that you are beautiful. It gets way better.”

Milwaukee P.D.’s STOP Program Is a Good Start


3 images from a STOP Program sesson

What is one thing most urban youth have in common? – A general dislike and mistrust of law enforcement. A dislike and mistrust that can have dangerous, far-reaching consequences. That is why a program like STOP, an innovative approach being tested in Milwaukee, is so important.

Youth participating in a STOP Program sessonStudents Talking it Over with Police (STOP) was initiated in September 2010 by the Milwaukee Police Department (MPD) in collaboration with the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Milwaukee (BGCGM), in response to escalating conflict and animosity in police encounters with youth.

“It’s not about changing the minds of kids, it’s about showing the kids what happens and why it happens and, with the generation we’re talking about, the ‘why’ is more important than ever before,” said Captain Victor Beecher, Director of the Training Division for the MPD. The program gives officers an opportunity to “explain themselves” to youth, he said.

Under the direction of Milwaukee Chief of Police Edward Flynn, Sergeant Delmar Williams and other members of the District 5 Community Prosecution Unit spearheaded the initiative, contacting the BGCGM to field test the program, and the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee (UWM) to evaluate its efficacy.

“We have to give a lot of credit to our chief who recognized the potential for a problem and was very proactive about communicating with our youth,” said Sergeant Williams.

Discussion during a STOP Program sessonThe program, which facilitates dialogue between youth and police, was evaluated by Drs. Kimberly Hassell and Tina Freiburger of UWM over several months. The evaluators conducted focus groups with the program’s initial participants, and facilitated new sessions where participants were administered a pre- and a post-test, and divided into three groups: a STOP group, a UWM group, and a Control Group #2.

The study found that the STOP session conducted by the MPD officers was the most effective in changing youth perceptions of police. A typical STOP session begins with introductions; officers ask the youth their first and last names, where they’re from, and what future career they seek. Officers also introduce themselves and encourage the youth to call them by their first names.

Police-Youth dialog during a STOP Program sessonIntroductions are followed by a detailed look at the city of Milwaukee, in which officers and youth explore the city’s districts and the crime rates in each by examining maps of the city. Officers share with youth when and where certain crimes are most likely to occur, and highlight the concentration of crime in Milwaukee’s inner city. City ordinances are also reviewed, sometimes by an Assistant District Attorney, but usually by the officers.

Officers then play and review a typical computer-aided dispatch (CAD), or in laymen’s terms, a call, with the youth. The officers ask youth to identify the important information. The youth find the exercise challenging and frustrating: bringing home the point that officers rarely have all the facts when they respond to a call.

The majority of the STOP session is focused on appropriate police and youth behavior during stops. The officers review with youth the MPD Code of Conduct, passing it around the room for the youth to examine.

After discussing appropriate police behavior, the officers then explain important conflict resolution and social skills that could improve these interactions. Youth are told to –

  • Engage in active listening
  • Ask questions
  • Be courteous
  • Recognize differing perspectives
  • Watch out for emotional triggers
  • Watch their body language
  • Take action to control the situation.

presentation during a STOP Program sessonYouth’s understanding of these skills is tested when officers and youth role-play typical interactions with one catch – the youth play the role of police officers while the officers act as citizens being stopped. This role reversal allows both youth and officers to comprehend the difficulty in each other’s situation, and to assess how their own behaviors directly affect the other’s responses.

UWM researchers concluded the program is a success for improving youth perceptions of police in Milwaukee. Youth have left STOP sessions feeling empowered by the information they were taught and less adversarial towards police.

And what do officers get out of this program?

Pride and understanding that they’re doing something important for the community, said Captain Beecher. If we can reach out to kids and explain to them what exactly is going on in a way the makes them assets not only to law enforcement when we’re investigating crime, but to the community, we’ve created an environment where suspicion is replaced by understanding and trust.

That change in the community’s view of police is apparent. Sergeant Williams recalls being stopped by a woman and her teenaged daughter while grocery shopping. The woman told him that the program was one of the best her daughter had ever participated in, and that she had come away with a “newfound respect for you guys.”

Officer at a STOP Program sesson“Several times that we would go to homes, and different communities, literally children will run up to these officers asking for autographs,” said Sergeant Williams.

The MPD is now looking to expand the STOP program beyond the Boys’ and Girls’ Club. Over forty officers, supervisors, and command officers have volunteered to become trained instructors, who will bring the program to Milwaukee public schools starting this fall.

Captain Beecher said he ultimately hopes to see the program expand far beyond the city limits. “We’re going to give it away to anyone who wants to replicate our success,” he said.

Leap of Faith: Leveraging Teen Mediation

Give kids control to mediate an unarmed robbery? “I thought, are you crazy? Isn’t that what got them into trouble in the first place?”

Then Det. Vanessa Cruz of the MBTA Transit Police Department was told that she would have to leave the room during the mediation and that what happened inside the room would be confidential—except for the agreement between the parties.

“To say I was skeptical is an understatement,” she remembers.

A boy had snatched a cell phone out of a woman’s bag on the city subway system Det. Cruz polices. The woman screamed and feebly gave chase.  The boy ran out of the subway car and into a subway inspector who held him until the police came. Upon interviewing the boy, the police, in agreement with the victim and his parents, offered him mediation or court. The boy chose mediation.

“This is usually where it gets tough,” said Cruz. “Most people don’t want to face their victims and in mediation you must face up to the consequences of what you’ve done—sometimes more than you do in court,” explains Cruz. “Often kids will beg me not to have to go into the room with their victim. They tell me they’ll do anything but that. And then when the mediation is over, a lot of them thank me for having given them the opportunity to have mediation. “

In this case, two peer mediators trained by Chandra Banks of the Cambridge Public Schools came from Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School to do their magic. The woman who had been robbed explained that she was returning from chemotherapy treatment the day the boy robbed her. She also explained that she had recently lost her job. The 15 year old boy came out of the room in tears and continued apologizing to the woman, the mediators, and the police officers—vowing never to do it again.

“It’s transformative,” says Banks, who has run this program for the last 5 years. “About 95% of our mediations end in an agreement, and about 92% of those agreements hold and there are no further problems. And that’s not unusually high, those statistics are typical of mediation efforts nationally and internationally.”

“This was the perfect kind of case for mediation,” says Detective Vanessa Cruz, with the MBTA Transit Police.  “The boy seemed to be doing it just to do it. There was no strong motive.” And in this case, the boy’s school record was good, this was his first, senseless incident. “We didn’t want to ruin his life with a record.”

Mediation is much better than court in certain situations, says Cruz. “In court there’s not always time to understand the motives of the behavior. And kids don’t have to take responsibility and be accountable the way they have to in a mediation.

The key function of mediation is to understand things from another perspective and provoke self reflection about one’s own behavior. And it works. The fact that their peers, instead of an adult, are telling them that they have broken a rule is more powerful and less easy to shrug off.

Lt. Detective Mark Gillespie of the MBTA Transit Police agrees and is increasing the Department’s use of this approach. “Not all cases are fit for mediation. If we confer with the victim, and the DA’s office, we can help reduce the burden on the courts. This approach is personal and emotional. The kids feel it more and they conform to these rules that they imposed on themselves.”

Why Does Teen Mediation Work with Teens?

It’s no surprise that teens want to exercise control and flex their emotional and political muscles. What is surprising is how they rise to the occasion when given the opportunity—and when adults are not in the room.  Instead of a Lord of the Flies scenario, the Kids are Alright—on their own.

“When they’re in a room with other kids, it’s different. They have to step it up,” explained Banks. “They don’t want to look weak or that they can’t participate; they have to be self-directed.”

Without the adult in the room, they must take that responsibility themselves and with the mediation training and methods, the experience leads the vast majority of youth to take responsibility for their conduct and explain it.

“It lifts their self-esteem because it shows them they have all the tools they need to solve their own problems—if you slow down and think about it,” explained Banks. “When an adult is in the room, they expect the adult to do the work.”

For many youth, mediation serves as translator—helping to explain themselves to themselves, and explain others of the increasingly diverse community in which they live, to each other.

In America today, you can’t really assume anyone know how to behave, observed Banks. Kids don’t believe they an be respected. Too many have not been respected, just exploited. This process gives them a different view of themselves and of conflict.

Elisa Miranda, a junior at Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School who speaks Spanish, Portuegse and Haitian Creole, gave examples of mediation serving to help youth communicate better with each other.

“I had to go to a mediation because of fighting and that’s what made me want to be a mediator. I was fighting over something that made no sense and when we had the mediation I realized it was not worth it and that if we’d talked about it, we wouldn’t have gotten to that point. But back then, I was like a lot of kids—I didn’t know how to explain myself or my feelings and mediation helped,” she said.

Elisa noted that mediation is also helpful for dealing with teacher/student problems when they have misconceptions about each other. She has seen that getting them to sit together and share their points of view is helpful.

Alice Nakibuuka, a senior at the high school, and a mediator since 7th grade said that  mediation is especially good at working out disputes among teens. “Teens say it straight,” she explained. “But if there are adults there, a lot of teens feel that the adults won’t listen and will just assert their authority so there’s no point in participating.”

Alice thinks mediation is a great form of violence prevention and intervention. “It’s better to resolve the problem because when teens start fighting, it’s hard to get them to start talking and then more kids get involved and it gets out of control.” She noted that Cambridge H.S. is calmer than a lot of other high schools in the area and she attributes it to the use of mediation. “We don’t have fights or the police here all the time,” she observed.

The written agreements that result from the mediations help structure the parties’ behavior going forward and gives a roadmap—and a reminder—to success.

Elements of A Mediation Program

As Banks walked into the high school last Friday, three deans of students met her with requests that she take on new cases. They said they had exhausted their efforts with the youth and needed a new approach.

“The mediation approach is key to building community—while empowering youth to take control of their community,” said Jamal Prince, Dean of Students at Cambridge Rindge and Latin High School, who says the use of mediation has reduced school suspensions and arrests in the last 5 years. “It’s restorative, not punitive, and incredibly effective,”

The five key principles of mediation are:

  1. All participants are there voluntarily and there are no consequences if they choose to end a mediation;
  2.  The mediation is confidential; no one may speak about what is disclosed about during the mediation;
  3. Non-judgment; mediations aim to avoid name calling and labeling and focus instead on win-win agreements for future interactions;
  4. Self-Directed; mediators are in charge of helping those who are mediated solve their own problems;
  5. Future-focused; emphasis is on interactions going forward instead of harping on the past.

All mediators must be trained. Chandra Banks screens cases for mediation and excludes most cases dealing with bullying as power differentials make mediation ineffective. However, successful mediations between parents and their children have been achieved. In the case of a brawl, each of 10 students was invited to do a mediation in which they’d have to face a member of the school community—their favorite teacher—to explain their behavior.

“The teachers all came in and made conditions with these kids,” Banks explained, still amazed at how effective it was. “The teachers invited each youth to connect to them and keep the lines of communication open. Teachers want this because it’s more effective than suspension and detention; sending kids away from education makes no sense.”

Banks has rewarded the high school’s most seasoned mediators, i.e. they’ve mediated some of the most challenging conflicts, in the school context by introducing them to the MBTA Transit Police Department.

“The police can’t be everywhere,” said Lieutenant Detective Gillespie. “In certain situations, which are carefully screened, we have resorted to mediation. We think using kids’ mistakes as teachable moments helps them learn how to respect others and understand the consequences of their behaviors—without a juvenile record that’ll impact and limit their future. We think with certain cases mediation is a great way for kids to move forward constructively.”

For more information on this mediation program, contact:

Chandra Banks, Conflict Mediator
Cambridge Public School District

Det. Vanessa Cruz

Lt. Det. Mark Gillespie

For more information on developing mediation programs, visit:

Youth of Promise Mentoring: Powerful Support for Struggling Tweens & Teens

What do you do with failing, out-of-control 11-14 year olds headed for the juvenile justice system? You pair them up with police officers and fire fighters – for mentoring.

Youth of Promise Mentoring: Powerful Support for Struggling Tweens and TeensCarmen and Sharise are typical 8th grade students. Currently attending their final year at Washington Middle School in Northwest Pasadena, CA, they are not outstanding scholars. Only one of the two girls has a high enough GPA to graduate from middle school, and the other is far below requirements. Under California law, however, both will be sent on to nearby John Muir High School in the fall regardless of their final GPAs and skill levels.

Their classroom behavior over the past three years has mirrored their scholastic difficulties: each girl is frequently obstinate and occasionally disruptive and combative. At times, their behavior is directed at their teachers, at other times it’s directed at one another.

Their male and female peers at Washington are struggling right along with them. After the 2011 academic year, the school’s API score was only 667, out of a goal of 800 and a total of 1,000 possible points. It was the lowest score in the Pasadena Unified School District.

Students’ grade point averages reflected that level, with a 2.0 (C average) being considered a relatively successful achievement. Books in the classroom have a tendency to be thrown around as often as they are read, leading to a student-suspension rate almost twice that of the district’s average, at 43% last year.

Poverty is the defining characteristic of the students enrolled in Washington: 90% of students qualify for the federal free or reduced-price lunch program, and overcrowded homes are endemic. In terms of ethnicity, the surrounding community is approximately 24% African-American and 62% Latino.  Thirty years ago, those numbers were reversed.

Along with the prevalence of poverty, violent gangs have managed to entrench themselves in this area. New policing tactics over the past four years have begun to make a dent in at least one gang’s activities, but the violence, burglary, prostitution and drug trade continue.

A little-noticed trend among the gangs in Northwest Pasadena, however, has been gradually taking place over the years. It mirrors the same trend around the country: new gang members are no longer high-school age, or even in their teens. They’re only 11-12 years old.

The impact has been felt most acutely at Washington Middle School (ages 11-14), where behavior for some students has degenerated into constant fights and arguments.  Of the 585 students enrolled at the school, close to 100 are now exhibiting violent behavior severe enough to be categorized as Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD), which is a childhood mental disability characterized by a pattern of disobedient, hostile, and defiant behavior towards authority figures.

Even students not participating in such behavior are strongly affected by the students that are, resulting in the cohort of incoming 9th graders last year heading to high school with GPAs below 2.0 (and many below 1.0), multiple F’s and excessive truancies and absences.

In spring 2010, a highly-experienced Flintridge Center employee was put in place of a fledgling mentoring program for the middle school students at Washington. Before joining Flintridge, Mr. Ricky Pickens had been the only truancy officer for the entire Pasadena Unified School District for several years, and before that he had served as a Gang Outreach Specialist for the Pasadena Police Department. Due to his previous experience, Ricky knew that a standard mentoring program at Washington wasn’t going to work. He needed to innovate.

At the suggestion of one of his former colleagues at the police department, Ricky began recruiting field officers and commanders interested in becoming mentors for the toughest, most troubled kids on campus. He had a quick response from a surprising number of police personnel and began to train them for their volunteer responsibilities with teens in crisis.

Youth of Promise Mentoring: Powerful Support for Struggling Tweens and TeensRicky also approached the Pasadena Fire Department and began recruiting among the fire fighters posted to local fire stations. Again, the response was encouraging. The advantage to a fire station is that students can participate in small groups at each location, as long as transportation is properly arranged. Maintaining the fire-fighting equipment, cooking, cleaning up and participating in physical fitness routines with their mentors were thought be a compelling attraction to almost any kid. As it turns out, they are, but the logistics can be tough to sustain.

Pitching the idea to the leadership at Washington Middle School was also easy; the principal, assistant principal and academic counselor jumped on board. That left the more challenging student body. Breaking through pre- and early-adolescent barriers is tough and not for the faint of heart. Fortunately, Ricky is a large and athletic man with a warm heart but a no-nonsense style. He was a highly successful college football player with some time at the pro level.  Nothing deters him, including teenage angst and posturing.

Ricky began meeting with the kids one-on-one and in small groups in the Administration office to introduce them to the program. Hand-picked by the school’s counselor, Dr. Black, the first set of 19 kids were those most likely to be suspended, transferred out or arrested in the near future.

They weren’t really given a choice regarding mentoring. They were enrolled into the program by Ricky, after conversations with their parents or caregivers. Despite their hesitant acceptance at first, they gradually warmed up to their mentors and began to participate with incredible enthusiasm. There’s something about having lunch with a uniformed police officer or fire fighter on campus in front of all their friends and peers that instilled a sense of worth in these troubled students. For most, it was the first positive interaction with an adult that they could recall.

We just want you to know, we know what you’re doing. It’s cutting into our action.” – An older gang member.

The first indication of the success of the mentoring program was swift. An older member of one of the local gangs wandered onto campus and walked right into the Principal’s office. He sat down and let her know that the mentoring program was hampering their recruitment process. “Eyes are watching you.”

It seemed to be more than a matter of saving face, although the Police Gang Unit members, who were immediately consulted, urged calm. If your program was too threatening, you’d know right away. In the weeks that followed, an informal agreement seemed to develop: “If you get the kids first, that’s fine. If they come to us, they’re ours.”

My kid hadn’t looked me in the eye in years. Now, we have dinner together and talk. I don’t know how you did that, but thank you.

—A father of one of the first mentees.

The second indication of success was the type of stories and comments coming back from the mentors and the families of the mentees. Remember, these were all out-of-control kids. Jamal (not his real name) is a good example. Enrolled into the program as a tough delinquent at age thirteen (last semester of 8th grade), he had been identified by the patrol officer that came up with the mentoring idea in the first place. Jamal’s older brother was a violent gang member, his mother was an active alcoholic, and his father was dying slowly of cancer.  “We’re going to save that kid,” said Officer Randall.  And he did.

Jamal entered the program with a 1.8 GPA in his academic subjects at the end of fall 2010, along with daily behavioral referrals and a bad attitude. One year later, after picnics, hikes, playing organized sports, attending professional sporting events, homework help and long talks – representing at least 100 hours of mentoring — he finished his first semester of high school with a 3.6 GPA in his academic subjects (3.25 overall) and had made the school’s football team.

The majority of the other mentees also raised their GPAs by an average of 39%, although in-class disruptions and absenteeism increased. Done well, mentoring works. With considerable outside interference, it’s not enough.

Youth of Promise Mentoring: Powerful Support for Struggling Tweens and TeensMore is needed. Every young teen in the program is suffering from some degree of trauma experienced earlier in their lives, while several are still experiencing repeated trauma at home or out in the community. That emotional upheaval has put most of them far behind in academic skills and emotional maturity.

After careful research, three programs have been identified to support the mentoring effort by addressing this extended range of needs: Aggression Replacement Training© (ART), the Parent Project©-Pasadena (P-3), and Revolution K-12© (RK-12).

ART was designed specifically to help teens learn to control their ODD-style behavior and is provided by certified therapists-in-training once each week for 30 weeks.

P-3 is designed to help parents and caregivers learn to be more consistent in providing effective and positive boundaries, penalties and incentives to help develop more mature behavior in themselves and their teens.  The once-per-week sessions will be provided by Ricky Pickens and at least one other certified instructor for 12 weeks (with English and Spanish cohorts).

RK-12 is a PC-based tutoring program that is fully individualized and supported by a credentialed teacher and college-student tutors. Mentees will participate in tutoring sessions (math & English) four times each week for about 2.5 hours each time. These new components are ready to be implemented…but each one depends on Flintridge Center obtaining additional funding in order to launch the services.

Looking to the Future

Recruiting additional mentors for the next group of students has not been difficult, although Ricky and the current mentors still have to work at it. Public safety employees have complicated schedules, and effective mentoring requires a significant time commitment.

When did I know I was making bad choices? When I was 12 years old. What I needed was an adult to rein me in and show me how to do things right. I’m stubborn –  I’d have given him holy hell for trying, but that’s what I needed, and that’s what I didn’t get.

—A former felon who had just finished serving a 7-year sentence for aggravated assault.

In addition, severely traumatized teens need time to heal and learn new ways to think, evaluate and behave. That can involve considerable patience, compassion, stability and understanding on the part of each mentor. Despite all that, new volunteers are coming forward, recruited in part by the deep satisfaction described by their colleagues at the Police and Fire departments.

As a result of the Youth of Promise Mentoring Program and its dedicated volunteer mentors, the next few years look much brighter for these kids than it did just one year ago. They have a sense of direction, a network of emotional support, and a positive relationship with an adult they admire.  Every mentee is working diligently to develop the tools they need to turn their lives around.

Despite the inevitable challenges they’ll all face in the years ahead, we’re heartened by their early and impressive success, and we’re dedicated to continuing our support of their efforts. We’ll keep you posted on their progress. If you’d like to join us, please give us a call.

Flintridge Center is a multi-service nonprofit organization based in Northwest Pasadena, CA. Other services include Capacity-Building Training for nonprofit organizations in the San Gabriel Valley, and Apprenticeship Preparation Program for disadvantaged adults, operated in partnership with Pasadena City College. For more information about Youth of Promise Mentoring Program or any of our other activities, please contact:

Mark Eiduson
Director of Strategic Partnerships
Flintridge Center
236 W. Mountain Street, #106
Pasadena, CA 91103

Phone: (626) 449-0839 x128
Cell: (818) 970-1242 CELL