In many communities there seems to be a gap between the youth who are the future and law enforcement assigned with the daily task of protecting that future. In an effort to draw the two sides closer, The Department of Juvenile Justice began a series of summits named Bridging the G.A.A.P. (Gaining Appreciation by Adjusting Perspectives).
“The model is to have focus groups held through the state where our youth and law enforcement can come together and dialogue,” said Pat McGhee, Delinquency Prevention Specialist in Pinellas County, Circuit 6.
A focus group was held in Tarpon Springs; this was the fifth summit held in Pinellas County in various locations. The organizers of this prevention initiative were McGhee, Jill Gould, Special Project Coordinator and Elizabeth Gattarello, Commitment Manager. Fifteen law enforcement officers from six agencies and 15 Pinellas youth participated in this event. The facilitators for this event were Pastors Dexter and Wanda McCree of Anointed Word Fellowship who has facilitated all five Bridging the G.A.A.P. sessions.
“We’re passionate about our youth and thankful for law enforcement,” said Pastor Wanda, who served 27 years in child welfare and recently retired from the Pinellas County Sheriff Department. “This project is so needed in our community. Everyone benefits from it.”
The local series of Pinellas G.A.A.P. conversations provide an effective, non-threatening, relationship building forum where youth develop better understanding of the roles and responsibilities of law enforcement and where law enforcement officers gain a wider perspective of youth’s current worldview.
The panel and audience engaged in discussions of such topics and perceptions relating to law enforcement presence in community and profiling, youth peer relationships/influences, benefits of positive adult role models as well as glimpses of how LEOs balance the demands of their jobs with their roles as parents and spouses.
The session, which was held at the Tarpon Springs Recreational Center, included several school resource officers and continued to promote the Department of Juvenile Justice’s reform efforts to prevent more youth from entering or going deeper into the juvenile justice system while reducing the disproportionate representation of minority youth in the system.
A special thanks for assisting in this event went out to Reform Specialist Hazel Hudson, Sr. JPOs Karin Popkowski and Tephna Richardson.