On Tuesday, January 20, Brooklyn teens from six high schools will begin the first in a series of “Digital Youth Dialogues” about police-community relations in New York City, bringing students and off-duty cops together for online video chats via Google Hangout, sharing personal experiences, gaining understanding, and brainstorming solutions.
Brooklyn Technical High School is not a participant, but dozens of its students have already begun their own efforts to reach out and collaborate with the NYPD, even joining with students from across the city on December 8 to meet with officials at One Police Plaza in the hopes of creating a Youth Division within the new Office of Collaborative Policing (OCP).
“I heard about Susan Herman, the deputy commissioner of the OCP, and thought it would be cool to meet her because [police-student relations] is always on my mind,” said Sterling Walter, a Tech senior who attended the 1PP meeting. “I see it around me every day; it’s the world I live in.
“We need a Youth Division so that students feel comfortable in reporting things to officers. Right now, they’re targeting kids, looking for drugs, which they don’t find, while there is so much going on elsewhere,” Walter, who commutes to school from Bed-Stuy every day, said. “On Classon Avenue, I was almost run down by a driver while on my bike. They’re misallocating their resources.”
The issue of trust is a big one, said Matthew Mort, a senior from Park Slope.
“We handed out a survey to classmates and one of the questions was: how likely would you be to go to a police officer with safety concern,” said Mort. The result was that “out of 50, 37 people said they were unlikely or would not go to police officer with safety concerns. That’s a problem. . . If we have a say in how things are handled, we feel we’ll be more willing to talk to the police and have the police help us.”
Fellow senior Promit Chowdhury agreed that “police officers need to respect students and vice versa,” but noted that unlike some “more antagonistic” youth speakers from other schools, “for me, I like the police, but a small minority is abusing their powers, doing the opposite of what they’re supposed to be doing — they’re abusing instead of protecting.”
In addition to the request for a Youth Division, the Tech students also made a case for “putting officers by train stations and moving peace officers inside so that the police officers can be outside patrolling around the block,” explained Courtney Claycomb, an NYU student volunteer with nonprofit political leadership group Generation Citizen who, along with Tech teacher Jacqueline Manduley, helped the Tech teens organize their ideas and presentations.
“Inside, Brooklyn Tech is a fairly safe school, but getting to and from school from the subway station can be a problem with bullying and being targeted by others [because] they’re known to have laptops on them,” said Claycomb. “We have specific incidents of a student being robbed at gunpoint at 8:20am on his way to school. It’s rare, but it doesn’t happen and it’s scary.”
So what did the OCP think? Will there be a Youth Division?
“[Herman] seemed to agree with us,” said Chowdhury. “But she’s working within her limitations,” noted Walter.
“So they’re taking us seriously, but can’t immediately enact changes,” Chowdhury observed. “She explained that she does like our ideas, but doesn’t know yet how to implement them.”
Still, the students are undeterred and will draft a set of guidelines for how a Youth Division would work, submitting them in the near future to OCP.
The proliferation of more town halls, youth dialogues, and rallies also gives them hope.
“Although I don’t want to go into politics. i always want to make a change and fight for what i like to believe in,” said Mort. “Certainly the student population would like to have a say in policing. People would really relish the chance to trust their police officers.”