'Champions of Change' Build Bridges Between Youth and Law Enforcement
This September, the White House honored 14 “Champions of Change” for their work building bridges between law enforcement and young people. Among the honorees were Celia Luce, a peer mentor for Outside In in Portland, Oregon, and Lieutenant Ric DeLand of the Portland Police Bureau.
Luce and DeLand collaborate through Yellow Brick Road, Outside In’s street outreach program that works to build relationships with homeless youth and connect them to services. In March 2014, the Portland Police Bureau re-introduced “walking beats” so that officers could get to know community members during their patrols and better understand their needs. According to DeLand, the switch has contributed to fewer disagreements between residents, reduced arrests, and stronger partnerships with community agencies.
“[The Portland Police Bureau and Outside In] worked together to build a strategy that recognized we were on the same side and working toward the same goals,” Deland says. The result, he adds, is a collaboration where the partners speak the "same language" and operate from the “same sheet of music.”
Here are four tips for street outreach programs looking to build partnerships with local law enforcement.
1. Reach out. Police interact with young people each day, but they may not understand the circumstances behind youth homelessness or how behaviors like stealing and loitering may reflect underlying needs. Reach out to precinct commanders and local officers to help connect those dots, DeLand says, and to ask for police support with community outreach.
2. Focus on connection, not correction. Part of the success of the Portland collaboration, Luce says, is participants’ shared focus on building young people’s trust. Similar to street outreach workers, officers now speak with youth regularly to learn their names and see how they’re doing, even if the youth aren’t asking for help.
3. Be honest about each side’s contribution. Share possible ideas for collaboration—and the required resources for each—to help partners make commitments they can keep. If you do begin a partnership, make your staff available to train officers on local resources or to provide feedback on specific cases. In Portland, service providers gave police cell phone numbers staffed round-the-clock, DeLand says, so officers could back up their promises to get young people resources.
4. Help potential collaborators see the big picture. Police departments are tasked with protecting entire communities, not just young people in need. Help potential collaborators see how simple changes like saying hello can support broader goals such as raising community awareness and reducing crime. As DeLand shares, “We introduced ourselves to every business, every tourist, every person walking their dog and every person experiencing homelessness. This [collaboration] was not just about issues of homelessness and not just about social work. This was about everyone, the entire community.”