BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) -The Birmingham Police Department is working to better bridge the divide between law enforcement and youth in the community. Police Chief Patrick Smith says he’s making it a priority. We’re looking into a program that could help make a difference.
In late March, a number of Birmingham youth welcomed the newest police officers graduating from the academy. The ceremony was conducted entirely by members of the newly formed BPD Youth Council.
"With everything that is going on I think it is extremely important that we continue to give our young people a seat at the table and a chance to make their voices be heard,” Justin Smith, the Youth Police Chief for the day said.
Youth engagement is what Police Chief Patrick Smith hopes will make a difference with kids like Deon Arnold.
“Sometimes young people are left out of the conversation because a lot of adults don’t think that they can think like they do so they really don’t talk to them about that stuff,” Arnold, who was mayor for the day said.
We report on violent crime in Birmingham on almost a daily basis. Young people are sometimes involved in that crime. Chief Smith says he working to curb youth violence.
One of the ways is through a newly formed partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Birmingham and the Birmingham City School district. The “Bigs with Badges” program puts any adult with a badge, like police officers, with students in the school system. Smith hopes this mentoring program will help open a conversation up between law enforcement and the community.
“They know who they are dealing with and they can start to break down the walls of communication so that we’re able to work long term with all of the students,” Chief Smith said.
“A lot of youth maybe think they can’t trust police officers. So we can build a friendship and that will give him the opportunity to know that outside of the uniform he still can look up to me and trust me,” Birmingham Police Officer Domonique Dixon said.
Even though Officer Dixon and 8-year-old Ethan Taylor have only been together for short time in the program, they both feel like they’re family.
“Me and him get along very well and I think he’s going to protect me from harm and danger. I look up to him and he looks up to me,” Taylor who attends Central Elementary School said.
“Hopefully me and Ethan will be OK and work together for a lifetime and build this bond and trust with each other,” Officer Dixon added.
You can find more information about the “Bigs and Badges” program here.