New Programs For Police And Youth Interactions In Ocean County

T.E.A.M. takes place at the Maple Leaf Condominium Complex to create a trusting relationship between police and at-risk youth. (Photo courtesy Brick Police)

  OCEAN COUNTY – Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin and the Juvenile Justice Commission (JJC) have announced two new programs designed to improve interactions between young people and law enforcement officers.

  The programs, launched in Ocean and Middlesex Counties, are part of an initiative achieved through a $100,000 grant awarded to Strategies for Youth by the Governor’s Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (JJDP) Committee, which supports state and local delinquency prevention and intervention efforts and youth justice system improvements

  According to the Office of the Attorney General, Strategies for Youth is a national nonprofit training and policy organization dedicated to improving police/youth interactions and reducing law enforcement’s disproportionate contact with communities of color. Their goal is to create better and more effective outcomes by implementing programs to improve interactions between law enforcement and young people.

  “Building a safer New Jersey is my number one priority, and improving the interactions between law enforcement officers and young people is integral to reaching that goal,” said Attorney General Platkin. “By providing officers with the information and skills they need to effectively interact with youth, and by equipping young people with better understanding of the law, these programs help build trust and ensure better relationships between officers, youth and their families.”

  “Providing law enforcement agencies and young people with tools to help them better understand and interact with each other advances our efforts to ensure that youth have successful futures,” said Dr. Jennifer LeBaron, Acting Executive Director of the Juvenile Justice Commission. “Officers benefitted from a program founded in the science of adolescent development and that explored the ways in which factors such as age, ethnicity, and culture impact their interactions with young people. Young people learned how to better navigate encounters with police through an interactive, engaging activity.”

  “Ocean County law enforcement officers know that effective policing requires the trust and respect of the communities we serve,” said Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley D. Billhimer. “This program provides insight on how age, ethnicity, and race can affect our interactions with members of the public, and offers strategies to de-escalate those interactions.”

  Various ranking police officers including school resource officers attended a four-day training program with tools and strategies to interact with young people more effectively. They learning about adolescent brain development and behaviors as well as strategies to de-escalate interactions to avoid the use of force. Additionally, officers trained on racial and ethnic disparities and reducing arrests of youth demonstrating mental health issues. The training included:

• Interactive discussions with an adolescent development psychiatrist to explain mental health issues prevalent among teens and the impacts of trauma on police/youth interactions;

• A curriculum on demographic and cultural factors affecting police/youth interactions;

• An overview of changes in juvenile laws affecting officers’ interactions with youth;

• Role play and dialogue with community youth; and

• Leaders of youth-serving programs providing information on community-based services and alternatives to arrest.

  “We are delighted that New Jersey is committed to equipping its officers with skills and best practices for working effectively with youth,” said David Walker, Training Director at Strategies for Youth.

  The second program is based off a popular television game show and teaches young people how to navigate interactions with police and peers, understand the legal consequences of their actions on their future educational and employment opportunities, as well as strategies for dealing with peer pressure.

  The game addresses misconceptions and corrects them, allowing youth to participate in meaningful dialogue about their views and experiences of the juvenile justice system.

  Workshops were held with Youth serving organizations and law enforcement officers, with the help of students from Sayreville Middle School. They learned how to be game leaders and facilitate meaningful conversations with the young people with whom they work, the Office of the Attorney General said.

  Local efforts to implement the trainings and JJJ have been led by the Chris Kubereit, First Assistant Prosecutor of the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office and Anthony Pierro, Chief Juvenile Prosecutor of the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office. The training initiative will be expanding in 2023 to Cumberland and Monmouth Counties.