Westport Youth Services Help Students and Police Unite

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Police officers are often notorious for their authoritative position in a community.

That is why the Westport Police Department in conjunction with the Westport Youth Services is creating a program with the intention of sparking communication between students and the police.

“Kids tend to get nervous and withdrawn when they encounter police officers and officers may give off the impression that they only want to punish kids, but this is not accurate. We are all really on the same side,” said Elaine Daignault, coordinator of Youth Services and the Westport Mentor Program.

According to Daignault, the goal of the program is to provide youth and officers with more opportunities for community involvement and positive communication.

The Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program has been a crucial facet in enhancing student-police relations, and this initiative is an extension of that work. The police department recently received a federal grant to assist with their efforts to support the community.

According to Staples Outreach Counselor Chris Lemone, there have been three scheduled meetings where middle and high school students can contribute ideas for events. One idea has been to have a charity basketball game in which the police and students work together for a common good. Daignault mentioned that there will be a community service project, as well as “Cop Shows,” informal public dinners where youth can ask questions of officers and vice versa.

This project may positively affect formal interactions between youth and the police as well: “If there were some young people taking chances one night, pushing the envelope, and if they’ve developed a decent relationship with the police, the cops may recognize a situation to be a teachable moment instead of an arrest,” Lemone said.

The program is looking for more student involvement, as it is the first of its kind in Westport.

“We need a diverse group of kids to represent their peer groups and be heard. This is also a great opportunity to develop communication and leadership skills, to learn about constructive conflict resolution and build self esteem while doing something good for the community,” Daignault said, “Plus, you get to know the cops by name!”