Blue Line

Police youth outreach

June 28, 2022  By Brittani Schroeder and Tom Wentzel

Photo credit: Tom Wetzel

A Richmond Heights Police Department perspective

The Richmond Heights Police Department has made youth outreach, particularly in their schools, a primary focus. The team has introduced innovative approaches to build bridges of trust with their young community. The ultimate goal is to improve police-citizen relationships in their community.

Four youth outreach programs that are making an impact in the Richmond Heights jurisdiction are Cop Scouts, the Teen Ambassador Club, a School Art competition, and the “Tip our badge for Academic Excellence” award.

The Cop Scouts program was the brainchild of Sergeant Todd Leisure. It is a youth program that is geared for children between the ages of 9 to 12 years old. It is a blend of Cub/Girl Scouts and a Police Explorers program that teaches life skills, police awareness, team building and outdoor skills that allows for fun and friendship building. It provides outreach opportunities for the officers to develop long term relationships with the children and their parents and families.

The Teen Ambassador Club was started by Lt. Denise DeBiase. The idea came to her from a woman called Lyndsey Kuhn of the Ohio Attorney General’s Officer. The program was then developed as a collaborative school-based initiative. The goal is to develop young leaders who can act as community ambassadors who promote all the good things happening within the police department, and the city as a whole. Some objectives of the program include:

  • Help develop future community leaders and strengthen community policing relationships with students and their families.
  • Allow students to learn about their public servants within the city of Richmond Heights to include all departments, council members and ancillary groups such as the Kiwanis and Senior Clubs.
  • Provide learning opportunities for club members on public speaking, public relations, networking, professional development, building community trust and other growth opportunities.
  • Provide students with a valuable club membership which can be used on work or college resumes.

Police youth outreach builds trust. Building bridges between officers and youth will having lasting effects for years to come.

The Police School Art competition was created in collaboration with a school art teacher. The teachers submit artwork from their students, and officers then vote on their favourite pieces. The winning artwork is displayed throughout the station and public lobby for one year, and then replaced by the next year’s winners. The students whose artwork is displayed receive awards from the department, and the local media recognizes them.

The “Tip our badge for Academic Excellence” award is a collaborative effort within the Richmond Heights schools to recommend students who demonstrate academic excellence. Bi-weekly, a teacher nominates a student for their good work. The Chief of Police meets with the student and gives them a signed certificate from, along with a previously donated gift, such as movie tickets or a gift card. The student is then featured on the department’s Facebook page so community members can learn about their achievement.

Police youth outreach builds trust. Building bridges between officers and youth will having lasting effects for years to come.

The Richmond Heights Police Department sent out a four-question survey in April to gauge how their efforts were going. They asked if parents felt these new programs were making a difference and asked them to rate the current level of trust between the police department and the students. Finally, they asked the parents what other programming they would like to see. The survey answers showed positive results for all programs, and the level of trust between the police and students.

The programs have very low to zero costs, and mostly involves a desire to serve and put in some sweat equity. These programs are a Public/Private venture, with businesses in the area providing support (for example, providing a gift card for the winners).

The Richmond Heights Police Department’s youth outreach programs can serve as a template that agencies can use to provide guidance, support and motivation for police agencies throughout the United States and Canada. These, or similar, programs can be used to build bridges of trust with their young community members. This will also strengthen relationships with their families and friends.

Tom Wetzel is the chief of police in Richmond Heights, Ohio, a Northeast Ohio suburban police lieutenant and former SWAT commander. He is also a certified law enforcement executive, adjunct professor in community policing and internationally published author on police topics.

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