Cops Turn Around West Rock Kids’ Perceptions

Allan Appel PhotoTerence Staton used to think cops’ only job was to lock up people like his cousin in jail.

Now the 13-year old wants to become a police officer himself - - that is, if he doesn’t make it into the NBA.

That sea change of a career aspiration resulted from a two-week intensive up-close-and personal program between cops and kids in the Westville Manor and the Brookside housing projects in the West Rock neighborhood.

Called YPI, or Youth & Police Initiative, the program brings the beat officers and district managers in tough neighborhoods together with boys aged 12 to 17. The aim is “to get beyond the uniform,” to know each other as people, to share biographies, common interests like sports, and aspirations, along with pizza for five sessions, culminating in a sixth celebratory dinner.

Last summer Chief Esserman experimented with the program, which is run by the North American Family Institute, to Eastview Terrace. Esserman had used the program when he served as chief of Providence, R.I. (Click here for an article on how it went at Eastview Terrace and more detail on the curriculum, which involves the kids and their families signing a contract to enroll and receiving a modest stipend for attendance.)

In addition to breaking the ice between kids and cops, activities also focus on simple but indispensable life skills like looking someone in the eye, shaking hands properly, and seeing the world from a perspective other than your own.

Since the Eastview Terrace experiment, the department has brought YPI to the Farnam Court Townhouses and most recently at McConaughy Terrace and Valley Townhouses.Each two week sessions costs $10,000, Esserman said. The housing authority paid for the previous three installments of YPI. The session Terence attended Monday was paid for out of the police department’s own discretionary funds from the federal Department of Justice. Some departments use DOJ discretionary money “for equipment. We use it for kids,” said the chief, who attended Monday’s session, where he shook the hands of the ten participating kids. He said he’d like to find the money to take the program citywide.

The kids Monday evening made formal presentations about their aspirations; about something good they had done as well as something bad, for family and for community; and about the consequences.

Prior to his joining the YPI group, Terence said, he had this view of the cops: “They were up to trouble. They were just looking to put someone in jail. My cousin didn’t do nothing, and he was in jail.”

After the kids finished discussing bad stuff they had done—cussing out a teacher, bullying someone, beating up on a sister, littering, pushing someone down the stairs—and then also enumerated the good stuff—helping mom in the kitchen, recycling, working with the homeless—the officers shared their own thumbnail biographies.

Sports: Common Ground
The kids were fascinated with how many of the officers knew from when they were young that they wanted to be police officers. They were surprised how the officers had been high-school and college athletes. Second-year Officer Elizabeth White, who patrols at Brookside and Westville Manor, is a former national rugby player, they learned

Newly minted Lt. Makiem Miller came by with Chief Esserman Monday because he wants to consider bringing the YPI to the Whalley/Beaver Hills district, where he is about to become district manager. Miller, who is now 41, gripped the kids’ attention with tales of his being a high school sports star in West Haven and then going on to play two years of minor league baseball.

“I saw myself in you,” he said responding to the kids’ speeches. “We’re normal like you. I fought with my sister too, till I was bigger than her.”

“Keep your sports dreams alive,” Miller advised. “Police is the next level of sports. Everyone’s got a role. We all have got a big goal for the community, we all have roles to play, cops on foot, on bicycle, on motorcycles. Keep that teamwork ethic because I kept that ethic alive” from sports and it transferred easily to police work, he concluded.

That resonated with Terence.

Over pizza at the end of the session, he said he had been listening carefully to Miller on the similarity between police work and sports. “You got to run, you’ve got to keep fit, teamwork,” he concurred.

He reiterated he plans to become a police officer. But first he will try out for the NBA.

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posted by: Edward_H on December 11, 2013  5:03am

“In addition to breaking the ice between kids and cops, activities also focus on simple but indispensable life skills ... shaking hands properly,”

And who is going to teach the cops that one should stand up if shaking a person’s hand?

posted by: Trustme on December 11, 2013  10:19am

It’s too hard for a regular NHI commentator to stay positive throughout an entire comment, when the subject sheds a good light between the NHPD and the young community. It’s such a nice story. Edward won’t say it because is too hard, but I will say it, thank you NHPD and give this young men the confidence to succeed in life.

posted by: Edward_H on December 13, 2013  2:14am

In your zeal to criticize my comment you failed to see the larger issue here. Cops are supposed to be trained to enforce the law; they are not social service matrons and obviously not etiquette professionals. Most cops barley know the law as it is written, i.e Esserman himself not understanding CC laws in CT, and even if understanding the law they vow to do what they want anyway. i.e DKR . PR stunts like this make people like you feel nice but I would be more impressed if the officers of the NHPD polished up on the Law, policed their own out of control comrades and used some discretion when deciding to arrest someone.

Officer David Runlett’s issuing unlawful orders

Esserman not understanding Carry laws in CT:

NHPD arresting someone on shoddy evidence

posted by: Trustme on December 14, 2013  11:14am

Clearly you’re not a fan of the police, and that’s a personal problem. Just because you possibly had one bad experience with the police, which I did as well,  doesn’t mean you have to bash the police every chance you get. The articles you posted have nothing to do with this original article you’re commenting on. I have had bad experiences with the police but I had many good ones as well. Police are human beings, which are involved in plenty of negative incidents throughout their shifts. Edward I hope you’re a responsible adult, and if you think you can do a better job, join the police force and make a difference, which you probably won’t. Stop watching too many hollywood movies, it’s not good for you. At least go on some police ride-alongs into the bad sections of New Haven, maybe it can open up your eyes.