OP-ED: Law Enforcement Working to Enhance Response to Juveniles

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By age 12, Erica Garcia had run away from home, and not long after she became involved with gangs, drugs and other illegal activities. By 15, she was pregnant and had dropped out of school.

Turning her life around, Erica has since gone on to earn her GED as well as a Bachelor of Science from the University of Maryland and is now an Intensive Case Manager at Up-County Youth Opportunity Center in Gaithersburg, Md.

Erica recently shared her experiences for an International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) multi-disciplinary national summit held on juvenile justice, telling the group, “I dated a gang leader who ended up getting killed by a rival gang.” She added that she was involved with many things that could have resulted in jail time.

“Luckily, I was blessed to have a second chance to turn my life around,” she said.

A law enforcement officer with whom she came into contact at this time ended up playing a defining role in her life. “Anytime he would see me in the streets, he would engage with me in a positive manner and always encouraged me to change my life around,” she said. “He would always give me good advice and I was never afraid to talk to him.”

Erica recounted that he was one of “the few people who always believed in me even when my own family and friends did not.” She thanked the officer for making a difference in her life and said, “You never know if you are that one person that will touch the life of that youth.”

The IACP, in partnership with the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, has developed a multi‐year initiative entitled Law Enforcement’s Leadership Role in the Advancement of Promising Practices in Juvenile Justicewith the goal of increasing the leadership role of state and local law enforcement executives to address systemic juvenile justice issues as well as improve local responses to youthful offenders.

The IACP initiative focuses on the potential for police leaders to have a stronger role in juvenile justice system issues and brings up-to-date information and resources to the field of law enforcement, accelerating progress toward more successful outcomes for youth, families and communities.

Often law enforcement officials are the first to encounter young people in trouble with the law, and at-risk youth and their families. And yet all too often, law enforcement leaders have been absent from juvenile justice reform efforts, sometimes because they have not seen their agencies as part of the juvenile justice system, and at least as often because other system stakeholders have not embraced their involvement.

Looking to gather information about law enforcement’s role in juvenile justice and identify areas for improvement, the IACP conducted a survey of 958 law enforcement leaders in the spring of 2013. The survey presents a picture of the current state of attitudes, knowledge and practices of law enforcement leaders, and how law enforcement agencies deal with juvenile offenders and collaborate with juvenile justice system partners.

Following the survey, IACP is taking a leadership role working to develop documents and training for law enforcement leaders to support their role as change agents in their communities by working in close collaboration with a range of partner agencies and other stakeholders. Law enforcement leaders are also being urged to use their influence and networks to become more involved in juvenile justice issues at the state and national levels.

Law enforcement leaders can be front and center making juvenile crime and at-risk youth a priority and can work to change agency culture to reflect these priorities.

Aviva Kurash is Sr. Program Manager with oversight for the IACP/MacArthur Foundation Increasing Law Enforcement’s Role in Juvenile Justice Project, and the DOJ Office on Violence Against Women National Law Enforcement Leadership Initiative on Violence Against Women. Ms. Kurash has been training law enforcement and creating policies, instructive guidebooks and roll-call training videos on violence against women crimes and juvenile justice at the IACP since 2001.  

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