Sep 25

Afterschool & Law Enforcement: Building Community between Police and Youth recap

The Afterschool Alliance is pleased to present this post as part of the Afterschool & Law Enforcement blog series. For more information on the ways afterschool programs are partnering with local police, check out our previous blogs on building relationships and trust, the motivations for partnershipstools for working with school resource officers, and a Lights On Afterschool event that forged a new relationship with law enforcement. 

In the past year we have been developing our “Tools to Build On” webinar series to help equip afterschool and summer providers with resources for supporting students through the complex issues that have been facing our country and impacting youth. Thus far, the series has highlighted topics such as supporting immigrant students and their families,  understanding and responding to incidents of bias, and addressing tough conversations with students in a safe space. As part of this series, we also spoke with afterschool and police professionals to discuss how communities can come together through afterschool and police partnerships.

Afterschool programs and police keep the communities they serve safe. Building off of this mutual goal, partnership between afterschool programs and law enforcement can strengthen the efforts of programs, departments, and their communities. This is especially important given recent headlines surrounding tensions between police and communities of color. To discuss how afterschool programs and law enforcement can work together, we spoke with Jacalyn Swink, a lead teacher in Iowa’s Burlington Community School District; Major Darren Grimshaw from the Burlington Police Department; and Marcel Braithwaite, director of Community Engagement from the New York City Police Athletic League (PAL). Our speakers shared ways to approach partnerships with local law enforcement and successes that they have had in their programs with these partnerships. Here’s what we talked about:

Why would an afterschool program would want to partner with law enforcement?

Provides opportunities to build trust and for youth mentorship. Partnerships with law enforcement officers can help to establish positive relationships between students in the afterschool program and law enforcement, as well as provide valuable mentorship to youth. Afterschool programs partnering with law enforcement allows officers and youth to interact on a regular basis and can help them develop meaningful relationships in a positive setting.

Contributes volunteers and programming. Adding partners to your program can increase your volunteers, and provide new ideas for programming. Your local police department may already have ideas for programming and be able to provide the volunteers to make it happen.

Exposes students to new career pathways. Youth often forget that law enforcement is a profession. Partnering with law enforcement can help show youth that being a police officer, and other law enforcement work, could be an obtainable option for their futures.

Strengthens the community at large. Starting with youth can be a great way to improve or build relationships between communities and local law enforcement. In Burlington, the police department’s partnership with pieces help improve relationships between students and police stationed in the school. Major Grimshaw discussed that since partnering students have started stopping him on the street to say hello, and that most of the officers volunteering with the program have developed strong relationships with the youth as well.

As a program, how do you build a partnership with your local law enforcement?

Think broadly. Law enforcement extends beyond your local police department. Keep an open mind to all law enforcement agencies, like the FBI, sheriff’s office, and transit authority police, as potential partners. From there, calling your local agency can be a great first connection. However, reaching out to parents and community members for contacts can establish a personal connection, and lead to partnership faster.

Start small. Forming a quality partnership takes time, and sometimes some convincing before everyone is on board. Inviting police to an open house or community event can be a great first step.

Sell your program. Be prepared to share why your program is so great. Having testimonials, evaluations, videos, and more can help a new partner see why your program is important to the community, and why they should be involved.

Reach out with specific ideas. Start by making a list of asks and ideas for partnership, then pick one as a jumping off point. Providing law enforcement partners with a specific ask when reaching out for the first time can make partnership on their end easier. Also, take into consideration suggestions from the local department on programming ideas. They know best how to get their officers interested and invested in volunteering. Coordinating a sports game, chess tournament, cooking event, or open house can be a great ways to start your partnership.

Follow up. Keep the conversation alive. Reach out after your first partnership to discuss other ways to collaborate in the future.

Once started, how do you maintain a relationship with law enforcement?

Look for opportunities to give back. Asking about ways your program can support your partner keeps partners engaged and strengthen the partnership overall. 

Keep a consistent schedule. Like any job, keeping a regular volunteering schedule will make police participation easier.

Establish a tradition. Having an annual tradition with your police department and youth can be a great way to showcase your program to stakeholders and keep partners invested.

Involve your law enforcement partner in program planning and design. Making sure your law enforcement partner has a say in programming can help increase volunteerism and engagement.

Overall, partnership with law enforcement can benefit communities, but what it really comes down to is the students. Braithwaite ended by sharing a story about a student in his program. This student had found himself frequently in trouble and had a complicated relationship with the local law enforcement. Through his participation in the PAL basketball and dialogue programs over several years he was able to mend his relationship with law enforcement and improved his relationship with his community. Not only did he see a lot of personal growth, he continued through the program and ultimately became a staff member.

Now that you have the tools, try them out! This year for Lights On Afterschool, consider reaching out to local law enforcement to get your partnership started. Each year more than 8,000 Lights On Afterschool events are held around the country for afterschool programs to show their communities the importance of the work they do. Lights On Afterschool can be a great way to start communicating with potential partners and jumpstart a deeper partnership for the future.

Want more? Watch the full webinar in our archives, and stay tuned for more webinars from our “Tools to Build On” series.