Decreasing the number of African-American and Latino youth arrests in the Pittsburgh region was the focus of a forum today. About 100 law enforcement officials, community leaders and youth gathered at Duquesne University to brainstorm solutions to reduce the number of minorities having run-ins with the law and ending up in the justice system, which could become life-long baggage.
Allegheny County Juvenile Court Judge Kim Clark said the forum is a good starting point.
"It's clear to the court, and I think I can speak for my colleagues, that we all are aware that children of color are disproportionately represented in both the juvenile justice and child welfare systems," Clark said. "We're seeking to determine why that is and to see if we can change that."
The youth selected for the initiative are from the Pittsburgh area. Most belong to a minority group and have had some kind of interaction with law enforcement. About two dozen new Pittsburgh police recruits, mainly Caucasian, are using the program as a part of their training.
Pittsburgh Police Chief Nathan Harper said the initiative is a building block to increase safety for the officers and the youth by using techniques like role-playing and open discussion.
"This training will establish a better understanding for the youth of what law enforcement does, and it will also create a better understanding for law enforcement officers to realize what may be going through a youth's mind when they encounter or begin conversation with that youth," Harper said.
The program is an extension of one that has already been established in Philadelphia by the state's Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC) advisory group, a subcommitee of the Pennsylvania Juvenile Justice Deliquency Prevention Committee. James Randolph, Executive Director of Pennsylvania's DMC Youth Law Enforcement Corporation, said the initiative is trying to be spread throughout the state.
"We try to work with police, law enforcement and young people so that we can bridge gaps," Randolph said. "We're happy to be in Allegheny County to increase this momentum."