Blue Line


September 11, 2013  By Tom Wetzel

648 words – MR

Juvenile officers do make a difference

by Tom Wetzel

One of the best rewards for juvenile officers is realizing their actions will show positive returns long after they retire. It must be a special feeling to steer kids in the right direction after they demonstrate poor or immature behavior and appear to be on the wrong path.

The role of a juvenile officer can be an important component of any agency’s community policing program. They have the opportunity to develop trust with our most impressible customers and cement life-long relationships. Their work with young people can also provide increased safety, as the intelligence they gather can alert colleagues to dangerous situations.

I asked my friend Donn, who retired after 15 years as a juvenile officer, what he enjoyed about his job. He spoke of learning about successful kids and revisiting them after graduation. He used to leave his business card in the locker vent of a young man he was in contact with at a school, just to let him know he was paying attention. He later received a Christmas card from this gentleman, who had taken over his father’s business.

Donn dealt with many ‘lost souls’ in a high school environment who later turned out fine. They may not fully appreciate it but many owe him a small debt of gratitude for believing in them and trying to point them in the right direction.

Donn truly felt he made a difference. He had a passion for helping kids and I’m confident this feeling is common with juvenile officers everywhere. They generally look for ways to help young people and find alternatives to protect them from an often overtaxed judicial justice system that may not have the capacity to put a personal touch on all cases.

Donn was particularly fond of a diversion program that allowed kids in trouble to avoid the formal juvenile justice system for an in-house application of common sense justice. Instead of filing charges with the court, resulting in the young person getting a juvenile record, kids arrested for certain crimes who demonstrated the right attitude could write an essay on why their actions were wrong and work off their offence through actions such as washing police cars.

These types of approaches to juvenile justice demonstrate a core element of good community policing which appreciates the balance between the spirit of the law and its letter. Obviously, vicious predatory juveniles who commit violent crimes would be treated differently than a shoplifter who acted on peer pressure.

Bridging the gap between juvenile offenders and road patrol officers, who can both be suspicious of the other, can be another useful opportunity for juvenile officers. Their efforts can humanize a juvenile offender’s perception of uniform police officers, who likely arrested them. Conversely, they can provide another perspective on the juvenile offender to the arresting officers. Instead of just seeing them as wearing a pair of handcuffs, officers may learn more about just who these kids are and what they are about.

A good example was when our current juvenile detective e-mailed a copy of an offender’s written essay about what she did wrong and why. It presented an honest personal assessment, including shame and contrition about her errors, demonstrating why it is worth the effort to try to rehabilitate young people.

Also important is the relationships many juvenile officers develop with the young people they come in contact with. The intelligence they gather could save a life one day.

The role of a juvenile officer really has the potential to make a difference in the lives of young people and their families and increase safety for fellow officers – but it’s important to appreciate that you don’t need a specialized assignment to influence youth. Our actions, contacts and the relationships we develop with those we serve, regardless of age, can pay large dividends for years.

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