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Youth Police Dialogues are a model for building trust

In her May 10 column, “Lessons from Boston police for other cities,” Joan Vennochi asks if the Boston Police Department’s proactive response to potential crises is enough, given the current national climate. The answer is no, and, in fact, the department is doing more.

As Mayor Walsh notes, Boston police reach out to a range of community stakeholders. At YWCA Boston, we’re proud of the department’s engagement in our Youth Police Dialogues program. Since 2004, this program has brought together police officers with young people in the neighborhoods in which they serve.

Over the course of five sessions, they have an honest discussion about stereotypes, sources of mistrust, and their hopes and fears for their neighborhood. At the start, the tension between youth and officers is often palpable. During the dialogue series, barriers begin to break down and connections between the two groups emerge. By the end, young people and officers are able to see beyond the stereotypes and view each other as allies in building a safer community.

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As Vennochi points out, the tensions between law enforcement and the citizens they are supposed to protect are complex. Trust takes time to build, and perceptions don’t change overnight. That’s why the Youth Police Dialogues use a multisession model.

In recent years, MBTA Transit Police and Boston Housing Authority Police have begun sending officers to Youth Police Dialogues, as they too recognize the value in this type of community engagement. We hope that other police departments will follow this example.

Sylvia Ferrell-Jones
President and CEO
YWCA Boston
Boston