Mayor of Pittsburgh Launches Police Chief Search After Meeting With Local Youth
After listening to youth voices, the Mayor of Pittsburgh began a nationwide search for a new police chief. Recently, Mayor William Peduto held a roundtable discussion with young people who participated in a campaign organized by Allies for Children and Hear Me. The project provided a platform for more than 100 youth to join a conversation that has otherwise been open only to adults.
Beginning in January 2014, students from preschool through high school shared their stories on audio recordings with the hope of strengthening the relationship between police officers and young people. They spoke out about their interactions with, and perceptions of, law enforcement and gave recommendations for the next chief of police for the City of Pittsburgh.
At a May meeting, students weighed in on one of the most important policy discussions of the year and briefed Mayor Peduto about the emergent themes of the audio campaign. During the campaign, Hear Me asked students to categorize their perception of police officers as positive (54 students), neutral (35 students) or negative (12 students). Of those who initially responded neutral, nine students shared stories indicating a positive experience, and 23 shared stories indicating a negative one. Among the neutral respondents, 23 students recognized the role of police officers as positive public servants, but selected neutral as an answer due to a negative personal experience.
About 25 percent of students asked for more opportunities to have positive interactions between police officers, communities and youth. They stated that school programs and neighborhood officers could positively influence the relationship between police and youth.
If you’re young and they talk to you a lot, you’ll grow up and understand that they are there to help you. Brittany, 18
More than 30 percent of students believed police officers profiled people on the basis of race, age or gender. Many students felt targeted and believed officers looked for reasons to confront them.
Juveniles are the ones they harass a lot, and they get their way with the juveniles because there ain’t much a juvenile can do. Jamal, 19
Similarly, more than 20 percent of students thought police officers could become more open-minded and empathetic if they l prejudices and understood the context of crimes.
If you’re coming from a home where you don’t have both parents–say you’re just being raised by your mom and she’s working two or three jobs, you should be able to understand. OK, that kid, he’s kinda hurtin’ right now. Maybe I should go talk to him instead of pushing all on him. Kelsey, 18
The majority of students agreed that the job of a police officer is to protect and serve, prevent crimes and “get bad guys.” For the next chief of police, students imagined a leader who is nice but tough, dedicated, respected, smart, open-minded and ready to help the youth and community.
While a small number of students believed the relationship between officers and youth is damaged beyond repair, the overwhelming majority wanted to improve the relationship.
Young people’s voice is more inspiring than grownups. Young people actually see it ‘cause they’re the ones interacting with the police. Martaya, 15
This dialogue continued throughout the summer. The Mayor hosted a series of community conversations in partnership with Public Safety Councils from each Police Zone and appointed Pittsburgh Public Schools recent graduate Curby Anderson to the Selection Committee. The conversations provided an opportunity for youth and adults alike to have a voice in the hiring process. Additionally, Hear Me kiosk are set up at various locations for the public to listen to all of the stories. This citywide campaign is just part of the bigger picture that allows youth to have a voice in our communities. Allies for Children advocates for a youth agenda in all communities and forms of government.
For full documentation and report, visit www.hear-me.net/pghpolice