Under a new program, police in north St. Louis County are handing out "tickets" to young people — for doing good deeds.
The "Positive Ticketing Program" recognizes and rewards young people for making contributions to their community and showing good behavior. In addition to police issuing the "tickets," members of the public, school administrators and clergy can also nominate a young person who has done good works.
"Anything from helping an elderly neighbor bring in groceries, shoveling snow, cutting grass, doing volunteer work, calling police to report a person is injured or sick," said North County precinct commander Captain Norman Mann. "There are different levels of deeds we will reward."
The program, which is based on an initiative started in Canada, is also geared at increasing positive interactions with young people, Mann said.
"Hopefully this changes the rhetoric toward local law enforcement, to get that positive interaction going with the police, and hopefully mend the relationships, where kids feel comfortable interacting with police," he said.
Likewise, Mann said the initiative also hopes to create a positive association with courts and the criminal justice system. The special citations issued will include a date "for where the young individual will have a summons, if you will, to appear in a mock court," Mann said. During these bi-monthly events, a judge will help celebrate the young person's accomplishment, and an audience will serve as a jury.
"It is designed to simulate a court proceeding, to take the negative aspect out of the known court proceeding in which a person is issued a fine, penalty or jail time, we’re going to turn it to a positive situation where a kid may receive a coupon to Six Flags, or a Cardinals ticket, Blues ticket, free food at the local establishments, you name it," Mann said.
Will mock court celebrations work?
That "mock court" aspect has drawn some skepticism. Rance Thomas, president of North County Churches Uniting for Racial Harmony and Justice, said while he likes the program, he said the court process should be left out.
"Many young people, African-American children in particular, have parents, relatives and friends who have been sent to prison, and that's something they want to avoid for sure - courts," he said. "I would suggest another venue that you don't go through that form of process, but again you may bring in judges and others to help present the awards, and have contact with youth in a positive way. That may be helpful, but when you go talking about going to court, that's not someplace young people want to go."
Mann said he understands that concern.
"We understand that a lot of kids are witnesses to traffic citations issued to parents, grandparent, brothers, sisters," he said. "There's a lot of negative things associated with going to court, but hopefully seeing the positive aspect of it — there’s a reward, instead of a penalty on the other end — will change their perception of law enforcement and the judicial system as a whole, that it’s not just out there to penalize people."
Thomas said he likes the Positive Ticketing Program and sees it as a good first step.
"Long-standing attitudes — those take a lot of effort to be changed, and again, I think it's a start," he said. "It's not the whole solution to the problem, but it helps. Every positive action helps. But it won't really solve the major problem that exists between the police and the community."
Specifically, Thomas said he isn't sure the program will engage children who aren't already involved in helping the community, such as the youth he works with through the north county churches group.
Moreover, while police hope the program also builds rapport with teenagers, Thomas said he thinks it's more likely to have an impact on younger kids. He said it's harder to change minds the older kids get.
"Unfortunately, those who need it most really probably would not benefit as much as we'd like to see," he said. "At the present time, the distrust between the police and the community — of course, this is especially true with young people — they don't really trust the police and police don't trust them for the most part."
Thomas said he wants to see more of a commitment to reach teens from local police in the form of more mentoring opportunities and partnerships with community groups like churches. While he said the best method for reaching adolescents is "a mystery," he said having police participate in sports or music events might help teens get to know law enforcement — and vice versa.
Noting that the positive ticketing program is just one of many outreach efforts, Mann said county police "take pride in our community outreach efforts, but you can never do too much to recognize the efforts of younger generations."
"We are here to serve and protect, and hopefully through lasting experiences, positive experiences with the police department, they can understand that’s something they can look forward to as they get older," Mann said.
In addition to the block parties, walk-and-talks, kids' safety fairs and other programs county police host, Mann said the north county precinct also hopes to co-sponsor a Boy Scout Troop in the Spanish Lake area, alongside its Citizen Police Academy Alumni Association.
As for the positive ticketing program, Mann said police are looking for more sponsors and local establishments to donate rewards.
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