MIAMI – A program is bringing together underserved and marginalized youth and Miami and Miami-Dade police to learn about each other and improve upon what can often be a strained relationship.
In the “Teen Talks” program, youth learn police terminology and get the opportunity to have tough conversations with officers. They learn about officers’ jobs and how to interact with them and also do a bit of scenario-based role play.
“All we are trying to do is open up that communication, break down the barriers and just for a little bit, look through each other’s lens and get an understanding of one another,” Miami Police Chief Manuel Morales said.
Morales said “Teen Talks” has the most impact in the five most violent areas of city.
“Model City, Little Haiti, Allapattah, Overtown, Little Havana, where 85% of all the violent crime in the city of Miami occurs in that area,” Morales said. “If we are able to go into those neighborhoods and reach those kids before they get involved in the gun violence game, we stand a better chance of not only saving them, but making their communities safe.”
Participants in the program range in age from 13, all the way to 21.
“The earlier the better,” Miami-Dade police Director George Perez said. “Any time that we can engage our community of youth at a point, young in their lives, where they can really realize that law enforcement is there to help them.”
Ruben Roberts created “Teen Talks” 12 years ago with a mission of helping youth gain trust in law enforcement and to help law enforcement to understand troubled youth.
“If I’m in a neighborhood and all I hear when it comes to police are people being arrested or people being threatened, if that’s my perception of what policing is, then of course I’m going to have a negative view of the police,” Roberts said.
One participant in the program said it helped him “feel like (police) are just here to protect us and to do good in the community and keep us safe.”
Officers also get the opportunity to learn more about the communities they patrol.
“It gives us an opportunity to also hear their story, some of the information and some of the experiences that they’ve had with police officers and us either be able to give them reasoning as to why the officer may have reacted a certain (way), or even to say ‘sorry’ and say, ‘That was an unfortunate experience you had with that officer,’” Miami police Maj. Albert Guerra, who leads the department’s community relations section, said.
The program also takes participants to places like Dave & Buster’s and local restaurants to change up their settings. Participants even get to go on tours of police departments.