Monday, June 20, 2016

Program: Youth development critical for community safety, well-being

Program: Youth development critical for community safety, well-being
By Todd R. Hansen From page A3 | June 18, 2016

FAIRFIELD — No one uttered the words “economic development” or “economic vitality” at an Solano Economic Development Corporation breakfast event Friday publicized about the connection between having safe communities and both of those things.

What was discussed is how investing in society’s youth – and investing early – helps to curb crime and many of the other problems that drain economic resources, and helps develop the kind of workforce businesses will need.

Barrie Becker, California director of the Council for a Strong America and special projects director for Fight Crime: Invest in Kids California, said that research shows when high school graduation rates rise by 10 percent, murders and aggravated assaults go down by 20 percent.

In Solano County, that would mean five fewer murders and 222 fewer assaults, Becker said.

Becker also noted that nine out of 10 juveniles who are in detention centers had been suspended or expelled from school at some point, and that one-third of all dropouts leave school by the ninth grade.

In Solano County, the suspension and expulsion rate is 7.3 percent of all students, according statistics provided by Becker. The county’s dropout rate has gone down in recent years and is actually better than the state average.

At the same time, research shows that 63 percent of future jobs in the United States will require some education beyond high school. In other words, communities need to find a way not only to keep students in high school, but beyond.

One way that is having success, and something Solano County schools are implementing is to have work-connected academies at the high schools. Participating students appear to be more engaged, the research shows, and the skills employers need are being taught.

Becker said her organization lobbies for resources as the state and federal levels by using evidence- and research-based information to stop children from being victims. Some of the most effective tools are preschool and after-school programs.

She also noted a statement from an educator who had helped turn a troubled high school around by saying “it is better to have a caring adult than a computer for every child.”

Becker’s presentation followed one by Jim Bueermann, president of the Police Foundation, who within his examination about the need to change how community policing is implemented, said the fundamental truth connected to virtually all crime is family stability.

Vallejo police Chief Andrew Bidou and former Fairfield chief Walt Tibbet are executive fellows with the organization.

If children are raised in a house with drug and alcohol issues, it is more likely they will have drug and alcohol problems. If they are raised in an abusive house, there is a greater likelihood they will be abusers.

And where those problems exist, Bueermann said, so does crime. He presented a series of overlays that show the connection of law enforcement calls for social issues and where crimes are committed or criminals are arrested.

Bueermann said youth development is critical for stemming crime.

“This tells us where we have to put our resources. We do not have to put them everywhere,” Bueermann said.

The former police chief of Redlands also noted the need for police agencies to change how they relate to the public, and change their policing tactics.

“There is a disconnect with how police perceive themselves, and how the people they protect perceive them,” Bueermann said.

Technology will be a driving force in this evolution, noting that body and other surveillance cameras are essential, and that it will not be long before drones become a central part of policing tactics.

He said the use of virtual reality so officers can get a personal sense of what it is like to be a person with a mental illness, such schizophrenia, who then encounters an officer, is important. It can even help officers understand how minorities view their encounters with police.

Bueermann, who is white, emphasized that he will never know what it is like to be a young black man, but he can better understand how that young man perceives the police.

“It allows you to become somebody else,” he said. “It may change how you interact with people.”

Bueermann also noted the days of just throwing people in jail are over, and that prevention and intervention are essential elements. He said police officers must be better equipped to deal with people with mental illness, the homeless and others for whom prison may not be the best solution.

If nothing else, he said, escalating costs of incarceration are going to force change.
Bueermann said to succeed, change must be embraced, not fought. He included a quote about change by Nelson Mandela to emphasize the point.

“It always seems impossible until it is done,” Mandela said.

Reach Todd R. Hansen at 427-6932 or