Training to Work Effectively with Youth: Reflect on the Past and Retool for the Future

Once upon a time, there was a uniform that commanded respect and communicated trust. A few words and a stern look from the officer wearing the uniform could often be counted on to correct a youth’s errant behavior. That time is mostly gone. The question is now what, if anything, can replace it?

Today, law enforcement officers should learn and use a more effective means of communicating with youth. It must be a form of communication that is youth-specific and that can quickly and safely de-escalate interactions with angry and aggressive youth. It must be based on the latest scientific understanding about how and why youth get angry and aggressive and what tactics will successfully calm them. Just as officers need to learn how to clear their weapons when they jam, they must now learn to clear a youth when he or she “jams.” Lives can literally depend upon this knowledge.

Over the last 50 years, there have been an increasing number of government and academic publications, including research from the IACP, identifying a worsening relationship between law enforcement and youth, especially minority youth. This deterioration in relations has had wide-ranging impacts beyond officer-youth encounters and can be seen in officer confrontations with parents, neighborhoods, and communities. What has not changed in that time period is the basic training officers receive on how to work effectively with youth—none.