Breaking Down Barriers Between Law Enforcement and Youth in East County

NEWS // June 3, 2017

Breaking Down Barriers Between Law Enforcement and Youth in East County

The Helix Charter High School Intergenerational Resident Leadership Academy partnered with the City of La Mesa Police Department to address historical concerns that youth have not always felt safe around law enforcement and police have not always understood the lack of respect they have observed from youth.

Through the RLA, Helix student Asia Duncan and Police Chief Walt Vasquez worked with the National Conflict Resolution Center to provide an opportunity for open dialogue and active listening between youth and law enforcement. During the dialogue sessions, called The L.I.T Project (Linking Intergenerations Together), both sides were able to hear to each other’s concerns, fears and frustrations in a safe environment with the goal to bridge the gap for better communication and build a culture of trust, respect and understanding.

“My overall goal for that night was to bridge the gap of mistrust and miscommunication amongst young people and law enforcement,” Asia said.

Many of the 160 youth participating in this project have been raised by parents who were refugees from war-torn countries. Others are youths of color born and raised in the US. All expressed a desire to interact and share their concerns with police who agreed to actively listen and try to understand the youths’ concerns. The police were also eager to share the day-to-day challenges they face in keeping the community safe. All agreed on the need to listen to understand the personal and professional challenges faced by police and youth.

Chief Vasquez described this project as “the best thing that has ever happened” to him in his 30 year career and is proud of the way his officers and the students have come together to discuss their concerns in this type of setting.