[Oct. 2016 News] Community makes effort to foster stronger police relations

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By Anay Simunovic ’18 and Nicole Dienst ’18

 

The occurrence of police shootings across the country and widespread national protests have brought police brutality to the forefront of American issues today. As a result, the federal government is attempting to foster a better relationship between police officers and citizens.

The implementation of programs such as Dodge-a-Cop, distracted driving events and D.A.R.E. work to establish a mutual respect. The Westport-Police Youth Club (WPYC), a local project funded by a grant from the state of Connecticut, aims to enhance communication and understanding.

One of the main focal points of these events is to involve police officers in student lives and activities.

“It has been great to have the two groups come together. We really get to know each other,” Officer Batlin of the Westport Police Department said. “I have made young friends and even written college recommendations for students based off of the connections I have made.”

Although the WPYC is a new program, multiple initiatives with a similar goal to that of the WPYC already exist.

For example, the Westport Youth Commission, Police Youth Collaborative and Teen Awareness Group team up together to host an event known as “Dodge-a-Cop” every fall. Dodge-a-Cop is an interactive evening of competitive dodgeball between teams composed of both Staples students and police officers.

Cayne Mandell ’17, who participated in the event last year, reminisced on his fondness of the activity. “It’s a dodgeball tournament and who doesn’t like that,” Mandell said.

Mandell also expressed concern regarding the importance of relationships between police officers and citizens, “It is hard for a high school student to see a policeman and not think they or someone they know is in trouble.”

Jack Norman ’17, co-president of the Teen Awareness Group, also commented on the relationship, “It is important for police and members of the community, especially the youth, to have a trusting relationship that fosters an atmosphere of cooperation and respect.”

The benefits of these co-partnered events are felt among different branches of the Westport community.

In working with youth for a long time, I understand that peers go to their peers,” Staples Student Outreach Counselor Edward Milton said. “However, I think it is crucial for people to recognize the importance of having trusted adults within their community.”

Although many believe that it is important to establish a positive relationship among citizens and police officers, some question the importance of such in a town like Westport.

“Seeing as the level of criminal and police activity in this town is very low, I wouldn’t necessarily say that it’s the MOST important thing to implement strong relationships between high school students and police officers,” Kylie Adler ’19 said in an online interview.  

Even so, there are many benefits to this initiative besides a sense of trust and security within a community.

According to Milton, “Kids who grow up in a community that is connected obtain a sense of belonging.”

Furthermore, Perri Kessler ’18, a member of the Westport Youth Commission, believes that programs aimed at bettering relations between police officers and citizens are important within all towns and among all people. “I think regardless of race, it’s important for teenagers to have good relations with the police of their town,” Kessler said. “Especially considering the recent shootings occurring in the U.S., the goal of the Westport Police Youth Collaborative is especially important.”

“The need to form strong relations should be a responsibility of the police officers of Westport,” Kylie Adler ’19 said. “Being a member of the police force, they have a duty to the community to protect and serve, and one cannot protect others if there’s no trust between them.”

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