|Harbor Area LAPD Senior Lead Officer Joe Buscaino flanked by police advisory board members, Christopher Fukatake, 17, at left, Kavita Desai, right and Emmanuel Jimenez, 17, several at a recent teen conference.|
Friday, June 17, 2011
LOS ANGELES POLICE EMBRACE ESTABLISHMENT OF TEENAGE POLICE BOARDS ACROSS THE CITY WHICH STARTED IN THE HARBOR AREA; YOUTH CRIME DROPPED AND STUDENTS INVOLVED SAY THE EXPERIENCE CHANGED THEIR LIVES FOR THE BETTER
“Doing the hard right instead of the easy wrong,” motto of the LAPD Teen CPAB.
By Diana L. Chapman
Six years ago, Los Angeles Senior Lead Police Officer Joe Buscaino landed squarely in the heart of two major San Pedro schools where problems abounded.
Fights took place outside Dana Middle and San Pedro High schools frequently. The students flooded the streets when both schools got out at the same time. Drugs were a constant and Buscaino felt somewhat overwhelmed. Then it hit him.
“We just weren’t connecting with teenagers in terms of problem solving,” Buscaino said, who lives in San Pedro with his wife, Geralyn, and two children. “What was a better way than to bring them to the table? It was ultimately the idea to give them access to the police department.
“Often we were just turning a deaf ear to what kids had to say.”
That’s when Buscaino pushed for and received permission to form the Teen Community Police Advisory Board in the Harbor Area. The goal: to establish LAPD relations with teenagers, get them to know and trust police officers and to work with them toward the betterment of the community. The program has been so successful --with youth crime taking such a dip -- that the top brass soon noticed.
Now, Police Chief Charlie Beck ordered that all 21 LAPD areas host teen police advisory boards by the end of July.
“Through the vision and leadership of Joe Buscaino, the Teen CPAB has been very successful,” explained Patrick Gannon, a deputy chief. “Joe brought together a core group of teenagers who were dedicated at addressing serious community issues such as graffiti and bullying in our schools and neighborhood. The insight and the effort that these young people brought to these issues has been tremendous.
“Community policing is all about partnerships and problem solving. Increasing our partnerships with teenagers and then using them to solve problems of mutual concern is a valuable asset as we continue to try and improve public safety.”
Since it originated, youth crime slumped across the Harbor Area. Teen members encourage and help other students to stay away from drugs or other criminal activities. And teen board members conduct public awareness messages – such as anti-bullying videos that will play in the fall at San Pedro High. The bottom line, Buscaino said, is an all out effort to build associations between students and police. The young members also mentor students who are faced with troubles and don’t know where to go, said Kavita Desai, the current teen board’s co-president. The board has 38 members.
“We mentor students one on one,” said 17-year-old Kavita, whose friend, Andrew Andrade, also 17 is a member. “Being teenagers at school, we know who is under a bad influence. Students don’t want to go to adult. They can talk to us and it’s confidential. We basically try to stop them before they do something they regret.”
Since Buscaino’s brainstorm, the teen board has helped influence relationships between hundreds of students and officers for the better and statistics seem to prove that the program – made up of students from the Wilmington, San Pedro, Harbor Gateway and Harbor City – have possibly aided in a large dip in teen crime.
For instance, five youth committed homicides in 2006 versus none in 2010. In the same time frame, aggravated assaults dropped by nearly half, 97 to 45; robbery 105 to 65; grand theft auto dipped 19 to eight, according to LAPD statistics. Burglary, theft and rape numbers stayed about the same, however.
The teen CPAB meets monthly at Boys and Girls Club sites to problem solve, work on issues that are becoming trendy, such as tagging, and to give teens “a voice.” It also heads yearly teen conferences in the spring where about 200 youth from all over Los Angeles gather to give them a voice to law enforcement.
While the program has built quite a bit of steam, in the beginning, Buscaino said students were wary and unsure if they even wanted to join.
“They were very hesitant and distrusting, and rightfully so,” the senior lead said. “What I gained was they never had an opportunity to establish a relationship with the police. They were timid and shy and it was hard to break that.”
But break it he did and the wall came crashing down between some officers and youth, some of whom nicknamed Buscaino “Papa Joe” and said their lives changed for the better.
Gabe Maldanado, who joined as the executive secretary at the age of 16, touts the board left him with the sense that he could accomplish most anything and “puts a face” on police officers. Buscaino, he said, attacked the trouble “from the root” and was “clever” in that he handed over the reins to the students to let them lead the advisory board. He witnessed students involved in the program quit ditching classes and improved their grades. He applauds LAPD’s decision to expand it across the city.
“Teen CPAB taught me to dream bigger every day,” said Maldanado, a 21-year-old graduate from UC Riverside who is now a marketing coordinator. “We went to Sacramento to speak to state legislators. We had teen conferences. It taught me I could do practically anything. I put myself through college. I just got back from Europe. It really changed the way we thought and we were inspired that we could do something for our community.”
Maldando also established a non-profit TruEvolutions, dedicated to help develop youth in academic, artistic and entrepreneurial endeavors. All this, he said, came from his time with CPAB.
Another former board member, Isaiah Alexander, 21, who attends California State University, Sacramento said he’s ecstatic that the LAPD had the vision to expand on such success. Many students, he said, “feel like no one cares about them.” Those involved will change dramatically, as he did, for the better.
Alexander’s family had many gang ties in Long Beach. When he moved to San Pedro, it helped him cleanse away those ties, but serving on the board allowed him to grow and flourish and understand his capabilities.
“We have a lot of students who don’t like police,” Alexander said. “This (expansion) will define and change behaviors. There will be more trust and rapport and less stereotypes. It gave me a different image of police. I saw their human side.
“It gave me the chance to really work with officers and delegates. I had a chance to express myself and go to the capitol. We really took pride in what we did.”
Buscaino believes part of his success was that he was there to listen to the students and he gave them the freedom to run the board. For instance, he said, the teens decide on the topics to discuss at the meetings. Those involved tip Busacaino off to specific problems taking place in schools, which in turn, will be shared with school police and administrators. That can include anything from traffic and gang problems to narcotic issues.
Many issues involving after school problems at Dana and San Pedro were resolved with the use of the teen board along with help from the Safety Collaborative, a board of school officials, police and non-profits in charge of children’s welfare.
Although Buscaino is pleased with his work, he’s proudest of his youth’s work to pull together teen conferences each year which links hundreds of children with officers, including the top brass. The recent conference focused on bullying.
From that April conference teen Angelica Arreola wrote: “When someone asks me what did I learn from this day, I would say, it’s a day never to forget, a bunch of faces I will always remember. The different stories I heard really touched my heart because to know there are people out there going through what I went through makes me feel a bit less lonely. Bullying is one of the worst things to go through…
“Bullies, all they do is feed from our weakness and we should never give them that power. I also believe we are put in this world to make a difference. I want to make a difference in this world, and show kids out there that they are not alone.”
The Teen CPAB seems to have done just that.