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Chief Pohlman: Protect public safety by getting troubled youths on track

As police chief for the city of Red Wing, my No. 1 priority is to protect public safety. One of the best ways to do this is to guide troubled youths onto the right path so they don’t become adult criminals.

The Red Wing Police Department is actively working with our youths to help them make positive choices. Our school resource officers work to build relationships with our young people and to be readily available to answer questions and concerns that our youths may have.

G.R.E.A.T.

We also participate in the Gang Resistance Education and Training program, which is currently taught at the fifth-grade level and also has a sixth- or seventh-grade module that we are hoping to implement.

G.R.E.A.T. is taught by uniformed patrol officers and focuses on vital life skills and helping young people set goals for their lives and utilize a decision-making process to achieve these goals. The program also focuses on understanding cultural differences in our society and becoming productive citizens.

We have also implemented a law enforcement explorer post for young people ages 14-21 to learn leadership skills and find out more about the law enforcement profession, allowing young people the opportunity to see if the profession is for them. On a state and national level, proposed federal legislation can help Red Wing and other Minnesota communities keep youths on the right path by encouraging a smarter approach to juvenile crime prevention.

This federal legislation is the Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention Act—also known as JJDPA. It encourages states to reduce the number of juvenile offenders who are sent to residential facilities, reserving the facilities for the highest-risk youths, in favor of community-based intervention programs proven by research to reduce future crime.

These programs are effective because they efficiently address the root causes of criminal behavior by working with youths, parents, caregivers and sometimes community members to promote positive behaviors that will direct the youths away from trouble.

Research from a recent Fight Crime: Invest in Kids (www.fightcrime.org) report shows that for most young people, participation in these programs was far more effective in reducing the rate of re-offending than being sent to juvenile facilities.

One program known as Aggression Replacement Training — which helps aggressive youths develop anger management and social problem-solving skills — cut felony convictions by 24 percent within 18 months. Another coaching program that works with parents and caregivers to reinforce positive behavior cut re-arrests in half.

Better for kids, better for taxpayers

Minnesota taxpayers will be happy to hear that these programs save a lot of money.

Family coaching efforts like the ones I’ve described can save between $16,000 and $27,000 per child served. When kids are diverted to these effective programs, expensive custody — which averages $105,000 per juvenile in custody a year in Minnesota — can also be avoided.

The good news is that residential placements in Minnesota have been declining in recent years. The even better news is that two proven coaching programs are available in parts of the state and serve more than 200 families per year.

But even with this progress, these programs don’t meet the current need. Furthermore, we have no way of tracking data and sharing data across our five main agencies that deal with juvenile offenders, which means we don’t have any way of knowing what is working best to protect our local communities from further crime.

Which brings me back to why reauthorizing JJDPA is so important.

The updated legislation will help us develop a system to measure what’s working to cut juvenile recidivism and will help us to expand our current programs so that more youths can get the coaching they need to steer away from a life of crime.

This is why I joined more than 35 of my colleagues across the state who are urging Congress to act now on this important issue.

I’m thankful that Chairman Kline elevated this issue late last year by hosting a Committee hearing, and I hope that with his leadership, Congress will pass this bill into law.

When that happens, my law enforcement colleagues and I across the nation will breathe a bit easier, because we will know that there will be fewer of our young people continuing down the path to adult crimes and adult prison.

Roger D. Pohlman is chief of the Red Wing Police Department and a member of Fight Crime: Invest in Kids.

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