Law enforcement agencies across the nation are striving to find ways to improve relationships between police officers and the community. It will take a lot of work to repair the severed relationship, but Baltimore officials have taken the necessary steps to bring officers and youth together.
Earlier this month, Mayor Catherine Pugh, Police Commissioner Kevin Davis and Councilman Brandon Scott announced a new program that will pair hundreds of Baltimore police officers with middle and high school students. The face-to-face meetings will allow the police officers and students to discuss their perceptions of each other. A nonprofit group will be responsible for overseeing the program.
After the death of Freddie Gray, the level of distrust toward police officers continued to deepen. Followed by the unrest, the police officers and young people were left feeling like they were worlds apart.
Councilman Scott and Anthony W. Batts, then-police commissioner, approached the Baltimore-based Community Mediation to create a program that would bridge the gap between officers and youth. Thirty Baltimore officers and 30 middle school students met in one-on-one sessions as part of the pilot program. In August 2015, the Abell Foundation provided $60,000 in funding to be utilized to expand the program. The expansion would facilitate between 200 and 500 police officers.
The sessions will be incorporated into the existing mandatory in-service training for Baltimore officers. The plan is for it to become part of the Baltimore Police Academy training.