Cops and Kids with Tom Wetzel
Cops and kids: 5 steps to create a mentoring program
The most successful police mentoring programs not only build bridges with the community, but also ultimately lead to excellent recruitment opportunities for future officers
Mar 12, 2015
Many agencies across the country are revisiting — and reinvigorating — Community Oriented Policing programs in order to address concerns about police use of force and the relationships we have with those we serve. Police agencies need to find innovative and cost effective ways to further advance this effort, and one valuable component in this mission is the development of structured mentoring programs involving police officers and young people — particularly at-risk kids in need of direction.
By reaching out to young people — especially those in need of solid role models — we can make a real difference in the lives of children and their families and help build bridges of long-term trust and confidence.
The following is a basic, five-point blueprint for a creating a mentoring program which utilizes a reasonable level of manpower and funding and which can produce dividends for generations. When done well, at-risk kids can be redirected on better paths, their family lives can improve, lifetime friendships can be made, and overall trust within community can be enhanced. The most successful police mentoring programs not only build bridges with the community, but also ultimately lead to excellent recruitment opportunities for future officers.
1. Create Initial Strategic Development
An agency should establish their mentoring program with written policy and guidelines, accountability, measuring tools, and earmarked funding. The agency ideally should try to work strategically in coordination with schools, social service agencies, and city recreation departments to help identify and align at-risk young people with interested and dedicated police officers. By involving community stakeholders from the beginning, you can begin to create positive momentum before you even begin to meet with and mentor the kids themselves.
Once the initial development of the program is done, there are four simple tactics which can establish a general foundation for a good mentoring program; additional elements can be added later.
2. Invite Kids to Roll Call and Ridealongs
Too often, some kids have known nothing but negative experiences with police officers — whether it involved their own arrests as juveniles or having officers respond to their homes for domestic violence calls — both of which are highly stressful and traumatic experiences for young people.
Young people assigned to a mentor can attend periodic roll calls and participate in ridealongs with their mentor. This affords them the opportunity to interact with officers in a supportive and positive manner and lets them see up close how an officer works and what he or she goes through.
These initial experiences can change a child’s opinion of cops and help them recognize that they really are the “good guys and gals.”
3. Start Doing Monthly Lunches
To provide for a relaxed environment for conversation and counsel, departments should provide for a monthly lunch date for the officer and the young person.
Eating a good meal together without being rushed can create an environment where healthy discussions can take place allowing an officer to provide guidance and counsel to a young person in need. Paying for some cops and kids to enjoy a monthly lunch should not adversely affect a community’s budget.
4. Make Home Visits
With the agreement of the family, officers should be encouraged to periodically stop for a visit at a child’s home. These visits — which put them on the kid’s turf — demonstrate an officer’s commitment to the mentoring role and while there, he or she may recognize hazards within the home that the officer — again, with the support of the family — may be able to help mitigate, control, or eradicate.
5. Be Available
After trust is established, an officer can make him or herself available for messages or phone calls from the young person who may be in a crisis or need of help. Being able to reach out to someone you can count on when feeling pressure or problems can be invaluable for a young person who is struggling with a situation. These contacts can go a long way in developing the trust and confidence necessary to make this mentoring relationship work well.
A well-established and trusted mentoring program through a police department can go a long way in enhancing confidence with our customers particularly some of our most in need ones along with their families. When done right, it may see many of these mentored young people grow up to become police officers themselves and return the favor to others.
About the author
Lt. Tom Wetzel is a 27-year veteran police officer of a northeast Ohio suburban police department. He is a certified law enforcement executive, graduate of Police Executive Leadership College, ILEETA member, department training coordinator, OC instructor, TASER instructor, DT instructor, and trainer in traffic stops. Wetzel has had oversight of department community policing efforts, led his department SWAT team prior to serving with a regionalization team. An instructor for Northcoast Polytechnic Institute, Wetzel is an internationally published author for numerous police trade publications and a black belt in Goshin Jujitsu. Wetzel co-developed a school/community policing children's Internet and stranger danger safety program called e-Copp, an educational Children's online protection program.