If April 18th’s inaugural Teen Summit at Waltrip High School was any indication, local law enforcement has much to do to improve its level of trust within communities of at-risk teenagers across the Houston area.
One teen in particular spoke passionately about his issues with the perception of law enforcement and their handling of situations involving minorities in his neighborhood.
“When we call the police, they have this sense of urgency where they want to just write a ticket and leave,” he said. “If you call for a fight, chances are the police won’t show up until 8 o’clock at night. If you call them for a gunshots, it will take about 45 minutes. The thing is, when they stop you and ask you questions they make it seem like they want you to confess to a crime that didn’t actually happen.”
Constable Alan Rosen of the Harris Precinct One Constable’s Office, who helped present the “Building Bridges” Teen Summit program, responded to a number of questions like these throughout the event. The summit also included representatives from the courts and area probation departments, including the Juvenile Probation Department, Harris County District Attorney’s Office and Justice of the Peace Courts.
Those in attendance at the event could receive community service hours; however the summit also offered a chance for at-risk teens and other youngsters to ask questions of deputies ranging from punishments, to how to talk to police during sensitive situations and, as several others mentioned, issues of inconsistency within law enforcement.
“It shouldn’t matter where you live or who you are,” the teen said. “The response should always be the same.”
Terrance Windham, Bureau Chief of Juvenile and Justice of the Peace’s Court for the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, said the ultimate goal of law enforcement and the justice system wasn’t to ensure youngsters breaking the law simply end up with a criminal record but to give them options to succeed.
“I don’t want to see you with a criminal conviction or a record,” Windham said to the audience. “We have programs available where it’s not just deferred adjudication or probation but pre-trial intervention-type programs. None of us at this table want to see any of you with criminal records and that’s one of the reasons why we’re here.”
Rosen said the summit presented an opportunity to learn more from the community and from younger citizens who may not always have the best interactions with law enforcement.
“This is exactly the sort of thing we need to be doing to make sure we understand where these young people are coming from in their interactions with law enforcement,” Rosen said. “At the same time, this really allows us to talk to young people about their options and how we can help them specifically.”
Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee also offered congressional recognition for Rosen and the Teen Summit and praised him for his work in reaching out to youngsters. She pledged her support for comprehensive criminal justice reform.
“I encourage my fellow public servants to encourage or to engage a dialogue with young people like this,” Lee said. “I think it will show people what America is all about.”