Opinion | What Do Police Know About Teenagers? Not Enough.

The day Brian Lowe attended a coaching session for cops on understanding the minds of youngsters, he knew his job would by no means be the identical.

Mr. Lowe, a lieutenant within the sheriff’s workplace in Tippecanoe County, Ind., instantly recalled encounters with younger individuals up to now — the teenagers he’d handcuffed for trespassing in a closed park in the course of the evening whereas hanging out with associates, the scholars he’d arrested for stealing a cafeteria sandwich. Like most cops throughout the nation, he had been taught to behave as an enforcer, with the concept that youngsters mustn’t get away with something an grownup wouldn’t.

But within the coaching session, “Policing the Teen Brain,” Mr. Lowe realized all of the ways in which adolescents are completely different from adults. For occasion, due to their less-developed prefrontal cortex — the a part of the mind charged with downside fixing and controlling irrational conduct — and the coursing hormones of puberty, they aren’t all the time in charge of their actions. Children who’ve suffered violence or different trauma are much more more likely to develop into emotionally unstable below stress.

Most police by no means be taught this. “In the police academy, I didn’t have one minute of training on how to deal with youth,” Mr. Lowe mentioned.

According to Dr. Matthew Aalsma, a psychologist and an teacher in this system, when cops work together with teenagers, they have a tendency to imagine that the teenager will probably be brash and disrespectful and can possible react emotionally. He mentioned this system teaches cops that “this is actually developmentally appropriate behavior.”

Tippecanoe County, which incorporates Lafayette and West Lafayette and homes Purdue University, has run practically all of its 400 officers via the coaching up to now eight years, together with useful resource officers primarily based in colleges. (Mr. Lowe took the category in late 2013, and he now teaches others.) An further 60 individuals from different county departments have additionally taken the course.

It has been the flagship of Tippecanoe’s bigger effort geared toward retaining youngsters out of juvenile detention, which is nearer to jail than adults notice. In addition to the coaching for cops, the county gives youngsters anger administration lessons, substance abuse counseling, psychological well being care and different companies, most of that are free.

Tippecanoe undertook these efforts in 2013 after intently analyzing its youth arrest charges as a part of its involvement within the Juvenile Detention Alternatives Initiative of the Annie E. Casey Foundation, mentioned Rebecca Humphrey, the county’s government director of youth companies. The county found that 44 p.c of 12-to-18-year-olds locally who have been detained confronted crimes like resisting arrest, with out being charged with any underlying offenses. In a typical situation, she defined, an officer could be referred to as to a scene and see youngsters close by, command them to return to him after which react when a number of of them would run. “The officer chases the kids and gets them in the back of the squad car, but this had nothing to do with the reason the officer was called to the scene,” she mentioned.

Scott Angstadt, the chief deputy probation officer overseeing Tippecanoe’s juvenile division, summed up the county’s newer philosophy: “We need to focus on detaining the right kids at the right time for the right reasons. Rather than the kid who made us mad, we want to detain the kid who is dangerous to the community.”

The outcomes of Tippecanoe’s efforts have been dramatic. In 2010, 334 youngsters within the county have been admitted to a safe detention facility, based on Ms. Humphrey. By 2019, that quantity had fallen by 71 p.c, to 98. (The quantity fell much more in 2020, however Covid-19 lockdowns possible performed a job.)

Unnecessarily provocative encounters between police and youth are frequent within the United States, mentioned Lisa Thurau, the founder and government director of the nonprofit Strategies for Youth in Cambridge, Mass., which created the coaching program. These encounters can lead to arrests, which disproportionately have an effect on younger individuals of colour nationwide. A report in 2014 by the Sentencing Project, an advocacy group primarily based in Washington, D.C., concluded that Black youth are twice as possible as white youth to be arrested.

According to the Department of Justice, tens of hundreds of youngsters are arrested annually for the obscure crime of disorderly conduct. And 42 p.c of them are Black.

Strategies for Youth has carried out coaching periods in 21 states, together with for police departments in Albany and Newburgh, N.Y. Some jurisdictions have seen outcomes as impactful as Tippecanoe’s: Juvenile arrests in Charlottesville, Va., dropped 59 p.c. In Cambridge, Mass., arrests for minor offenses plunged 70 p.c, based on Ms. Thurau.

Still, many police departments which have contacted Strategies for Youth have balked on the worth: $21,500 for a two-day coaching session and practically $35,000 for a four-day train-the-trainer program so police departments can do their very own coaching. The value is particularly difficult at a time when cities are strapped for funds. But the choice, placing youngsters in detention who don’t should be there, is dear, too. It is about $140 a day in Tippecanoe, Ms. Humphrey mentioned.

Even extra vital, pointless detentions have critical penalties, Ms. Thurau mentioned. Kids in detention miss college, which might impede their means to graduate. Having a document “can affect a kid’s ability to get a job or go to college,” she mentioned. Being taken from a house might trigger trauma to the teenager and the teenager’s household. And the monetary prices of courtroom charges and attorneys could also be arduous for a household to bear.

Tippecanoe County additionally gives “Parenting the Teen Brain” for folks, to allow them to higher perceive their baby’s actions and keep away from pointless calls to the police.

Although Tippecanoe’s inhabitants is 83 p.c white, these applications particularly profit its rising neighborhood of youngsters of colour, Mr. Angstadt mentioned, as a result of they’re overrepresented within the county’s juvenile justice system. Thus far, although, white teenagers within the county have benefited extra, with a 58 p.c drop in safe detention for white youth, in contrast with a 36 p.c dip for Black youth. Ms. Humphrey mentioned the county is inspecting potential causes.

During the coaching, officers be taught methods like ready for youngsters to relax earlier than making an attempt to speak to them, then listening rigorously and mirroring their phrases in order that they know they’ve been heard. “A lot of kids are intimidated by the uniform. If you establish a relationship, you will have a much bigger impact,” mentioned Aaron Gilman, a deputy and faculty useful resource officer within the Tippecanoe college district, who leads elements of the coaching.

These made a distinction to Mara England, a 19-year-old residing in Lafayette. When she was 14 to 17 years outdated, police have been referred to as to her household’s dwelling a number of instances after she received into bodily altercations with a relative. She suffers from psychological sickness, together with intermittent explosive dysfunction, she mentioned. The officers “would take the time to talk to me and keep me calm until I de-escalated,” she mentioned. She has since gotten assist for her psychological well being points, and he or she at the moment assists different troubled youth.

Not each teen has benefited from the coaching. Jewel DeRamus, who in 2014 moved to Lafayette from Chicago together with her six boys, mentioned that final 12 months one in every of her teenage sons was arrested by an officer who didn’t take the boy’s studying and emotional disabilities under consideration throughout their risky interplay.

But Faith Graham, a decide of the county’s juvenile courtroom, mentioned that total, she has been happy. Kids who’re a hazard to themselves or others are nonetheless arrested. But lots of the pointless detentions are gone. A police officer’s “approach to a kid can change the whole interaction,” she mentioned. Whether the officer involves it with preventing gloves or child gloves can profoundly have an effect on the teenager’s life.

Meryl Davids Landau is a contract journalist who writes ceaselessly about psychology and psychological well being.

This article is a part of Fixes, a collection that explores options to main social issues. To obtain e mail alerts for Fixes columns, join right here.