TRENTON – Attorney General Matthew J. Platkin and the Juvenile Justice Commission (JJC) today announced two new programs designed to improve interactions between young people and law enforcement officers. Both programs are part of an initiative implemented through a $100,000 grant awarded to Strategies for Youth by the Governor’s Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention (JJDP) Committee, which supports state and local delinquency prevention and intervention efforts and youth justice system improvements. The program represents a collaboration between the JJC, the JJDP Committee, the Ocean Prosecutor’s Office, and the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office.
Strategies for Youth is a national nonprofit training and policy organization dedicated to improving police/youth interactions and reducing law enforcement’s disproportionate contact with communities of color. In order to create better and more effective outcomes, New Jersey, in partnership with the organization, is implementing two programs to improve interactions between law enforcement and young people through training and practical skills. Strategies for Youth has worked with law enforcement agencies across the country.
“Building a safer New Jersey is my number one priority, and improving the interactions between law enforcement officers and young people is integral to reaching that goal,” said Attorney General Platkin. “By providing officers with the information and skills they need to effectively interact with youth, and by equipping young people with better understanding of the law, these programs help build trust and ensure better relationships between officers, youth and their families.”
“Providing law enforcement agencies and young people with tools to help them better understand and interact with each other advances our efforts to ensure that youth have successful futures,” said Dr. Jennifer LeBaron, Acting Executive Director of the Juvenile Justice Commission. “Officers benefitted from a program founded in the science of adolescent development and that explored the ways in which factors such as age, ethnicity, and culture impact their interactions with young people. Young people learned how to better navigate encounters with police through an interactive, engaging activity.”
“The Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office is pleased to provide our law enforcement officers the opportunity to improve their interactions with young people,” said Middlesex County Prosecutor Yolanda Ciccone. “The training provides officers with the knowledge to more effectively engage with young people. These strategies with help them protect all members of our community while building and maintaining trust with the communities they serve.”
“Ocean County law enforcement officers know that effective policing requires the trust and respect of the communities we serve,” said Ocean County Prosecutor Bradley D. Billhimer. “This program provides insight on how age, ethnicity, and race can affect our interactions with members of the public, and offers strategies to de-escalate those interactions.”
Middlesex and Ocean County police officers attended a four-day training program in their respective counties. The intensive courses provided officers of varying ranks and functions, including school resource officers, with tools and strategies to interact with young people more effectively. By offering insights into adolescent brain development and behaviors, the officers learned skills and strategies to de-escalate interactions and avoid the use of force. Officers were also trained on racial and ethnic disparities and reducing arrests of youth demonstrating mental health issues. The training included:
- Interactive discussions with an adolescent development psychiatrist to explain mental health issues prevalent among teens and the impacts of trauma on police/youth interactions;
- A curriculum on demographic and cultural factors affecting police/youth interactions;
- An overview of changes in juvenile laws affecting officers’ interactions with youth;
- Role play and dialogue with community youth; and
- Leaders of youth-serving programs providing information on community-based services and alternatives to arrest.
“We are delighted that New Jersey is committed to equipping its officers with skills and best practices for working effectively with youth,” said David Walker, Training Director at Strategies for Youth.
Using the framework of the popular television game show, the second program teaches young people how to navigate interactions with police and peers, understand the legal consequences of their actions on their future educational and employment opportunities, as well as strategies for dealing with peer pressure. The game offers a structured framework for correcting misconceptions and allowing youth to participate in meaningful dialogue about their views and experiences of the juvenile justice system.
Youth serving organizations and law enforcement officers attended the gameshow-based workshops where, with the help of students from Sayreville Middle School, they learned how to be game leaders and facilitate meaningful conversations with the young people with whom they work.
Local efforts to implement the trainings and JJJ have been led by the Chris Kubereit, First Assistant Prosecutor of the Middlesex County Prosecutor’s Office and Anthony Pierro, Chief Juvenile Prosecutor of the Ocean County Prosecutor’s Office. The training initiative will expand to Cumberland and Monmouth Counties in 2023.
The JJC was established in 1995 to serve as the single agency of the State government with centralized authority for planning, policy development, and provision of services in the juvenile justice system. The JJC is committed to implementing and promoting policies and practices that improve outcomes for young people involved with the juvenile justice system, their families, and their communities.
The JJC’s three primary responsibilities are providing care, custody, and rehabilitative services to youth committed to the agency by the courts;, supervising and coordinating services for youth released from custody on parole;, and supporting local efforts to provide prevention and early intervention services to at-risk and court-involved youth.