Most of what the public sees our officers doing is reactive: showing up after something bad already has happened. There is a lot of proactive work going on behind the scenes, however, and one of those initiatives starts today. Today is the first day of this summer’s Teens in Transition program, a partnership that aims to put at-risk youth on track for a positive future.
Teens in Transition is a partnership between the Kansas City Missouri Police Department, Kansas City No Violence Alliance and local artists. It started in the summer of 2014. KCPD officers who work as School Resource Officers (SROs) in Kansas City Public Schools and school staff in the Hickman Mills School District help select students ages 14 to 17 who they think could benefit from the program. Many of these students have had negative contact with police, but not all of them. They are teens who are on the fence about which direction their life is going to go.
We meet with them and their families to outline the expectations of the program. They fill out an application. The first three days are an evaluation period to determine whether the teens are a good fit. Police, program directors and teens will work together this week to create a student agreement of behavior. Teens are urged to be careful about whom they should associate with over the summer and are told negative contact with police could result in being asked to leave the program.
So what happens at Teens in Transition? The teens meet three days weekly from now until Aug. 9. During that time, they hear from a variety of guest speakers—the Jackson County Prosecutor, the Mayor, the Special Agent in Charge of the FBI’s Kansas City Division, me and many others. They learn about conflict resolution and skills for employment. They get a free meal and a snack. And they work collaboratively on an art project. They get paid above minimum wage for their work, too. And on their paydays, they learn about financial literacy. The Mayor’s Office funds the program.
In years past, the teens’ artwork has been auctioned off. One piece hangs in the lobby of our East Patrol Division. Last year, they created murals to be featured in scenery in the Lyric Opera of Kansas City’s production of “West Side Story.” Those murals will travel to other productions of the musical in Atlanta, Chicago, Houston and New York City.
Throughout the program, the teens are shepherded by KCPD School Resource Officers. The SROs are there with the teens every day, providing guidance and mentorship and breaking down misconceptions the teens might have had about law enforcement. It’s interesting to see the change throughout the program. The teens are usually very standoffish in the beginning, but at the end, they and the SROs seem like old friends.
Teens in Transition will take place in two locations this year: at Arts Tech downtown and at Hope Hangout across from Ruskin High School. Forty students are slated to start at Arts Tech, and 25 at Hope Hangout.
In the past four years of the program, 210 teens started it, and 73% completed it. Of those who completed the program, two-thirds have since had no negative contact with police. We view that as a huge win and an indication that proactive programs like this work. KC NoVA social workers also stay in touch with the teens after the program, and the SROs see them and keep up with them when they go back to school.
You may just see us responding to 911 calls, but rest assured that there is a lot of proactive work going on behind the scenes. Through police and teens building relationships, a new generation is trusting and more apt to work with police. This makes Kansas City’s future safer and brighter for everyone.
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This post was originally published at KCPD Chief’s Blog.