South Florida authorities are setting out to connect with Miami youth through a program dubbed “Teen Talks,” which focuses on helping the groups better understand each other.
“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 went on to note that “Teen Talks” has had positive impacts on five of Miami’s “most violent areas.”
“Model City, Little Haiti, Allapattah, Overtown, Little Havana, where 85% of all the violent crime in the city of Miami occurs in that area,” he shared. “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 [also] making their communities safe.”
Participants in the program, which was created 12 years ago, range between 13 and 21 years of age.
“The earlier the better,” Miami-Dade Police Director George Perez said. “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, the creator of “Teen Talks,” further spoke on the inspiration behind the initiative.
“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.
On top of attempting to dispel negative views of police officers, this program also gives authorities a beneficial chance to learn more about the communities in which they work.
“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 Lieutenant Albert Guerra, who is also in charge of the department’s community relations branch, said.
Tyquane Hankerson, a 14-year-old “Teen Talks” participant, noted that he “thought they would be mean,” but ultimately found the officers to be “helpful and fun,” as reported by the Miami Herald.
“They can see police officers outside of their norm and see that they are human as well,” Hankerson’s teacher, Ericka Reed, added. “Today gave them an opportunity to network with law enforcement, which will help close the gap within our urban communities and law enforcement.”
“This is awesome exposure,” she continued. “It helps the students to have a more positive relationship with officers and not be so intimidated by them — and respect them as well.”
It’s also worth noting that “Teen Talks” sessions regularly take place at different venues, including local restaurants and places like Dave & Buster’s, to make it a more enjoyable experience. It also includes trips to local police stations.
“One of the things I always share with the kids whenever I meet with them is that I let them know that, in my eyes and in the eyes of the people they work with, they are priceless,” said Roberts positively noted of his program.
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