Program Seeks To Build Trust Between Youths And Boston Police

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Twenty-year-old Daniel Rivera has lived at Dorchester's Franklin Field housing development his entire life. As a third-generation resident, he says he's witnessed a lot.

"Growing up here, you see a lot of death, you see a lot of stabbings. Not only bad things, though," Rivera said. "There's a lot of friendships that are made on the basketball courts ... but I would say the bad outweighs the good."

In 2007, the Youth and Police Initiative (YPI) was brought into Franklin Field. The program hosts a series of workshops that seeks to break down mistrust between police and inner city youth.

Rivera took part when he was 14. He says some teens and other young people from the neighborhood have an "enemy state of mind toward police." YPI aims to help youth see police in a more positive light.

"There's a lot of one-on-one relationships between teenagers and officers throughout YPI, a lot of personal stories," Rivera said. "You get to learn about how they grew up and how much alike we are."

"There’s a lot of one-on-one relationships between teenagers and officers throughout YPI. ... You get to learn about how they grew up and how much alike we are.”

Daniel Rivera, 20, Dorchester resident

According to Boston Police stats compiled by the nonprofit that runs the Youth and Police Initiative, violent crime and drug offenses were cut nearly in half three years after the program began at Franklin Field.

YPI also holds workshops at the Lenox Street housing development in the South End. Thirteen young people gathered there earlier this month in the community center for a workshop. Paul Lewis grew up in the South End and heads the group behind the effort.

"Are there some bad officers out there? Yeah, there's a lot of bad officers out there," he said during the workshop. "But there's some good officers as well."

Lewis says YPI is about helping officers understand the perspectives of young people in these neighborhoods.

"We're trying to make sure that officers who patrol this area don't look at you guys and stereotype you guys and think that you guys are a bunch of hoods or criminals," he said.

Also from the South End is Boston Police Officer Jorge Dias, a regular at YPI workshops. He talked to the youths about being stopped by officers.

"You ain't gonna appreciate the reason why they stop you, because they're going to tell you that they stop you because they're trying to keep you safe," Dias said. "And I believe that to be true, but you guys may not believe that to be true.

"You guys are going to believe that they stop you because you're young black kids or young Spanish kids, and you live in a poor part of the city."

Dias also told the group that police have an important job to do.

"I have to do my job, and my job is to make sure that you're safe and to protect you," he said.

Facilitators asked the youths to speak about good and poor decisions they've made.

"A good choice that I made was helping my mom and my sister plan my father’s funeral, and it affected me and my sisters because I am so young and I was acting really strong," said 17-year-old Ashley Rocker. "A bad choice I made was disrespecting my teachers, and my family and friends who actually cared about me."

Rocker then said something that took organizers by surprise: "My goal is to become a police officer."

The young people who take part in these workshops still have to face up to violence. Rivera remembers a friend of his at Franklin Field who was paralyzed in a shooting. Rivera says his friend had cleaned up his act, but his past acts came back to haunt him.

Another friend of Rivera's, J'ona Washington, has also taken part in the Youth and Police Initiative.

"If they can bring YPI everywhere, I feel as the world will stop the violence," Washington said. "If YPI was everywhere, violence will end right now."

Youth and Police Initiative workshops are being held in several communities around the northeast, including New York City, Baltimore and Philadelphia, with new ones on the horizon in New Rochelle and Hartford.

To expand further, organizers say they must persuade police departments that they're not going to arrest their way to safety.

WBUR's Rebecca Sananes contributed reporting.

This segment aired on April 22, 2015.

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Simón Rios Reporter
Simón Rios is an award-winning bilingual reporter in WBUR's newsroom.



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