Notes from Susan: Police Don’t Know Enough About Teenagers

Notes from Susan: Police Don’t Know Enough About Teenagers


Notes From Susan: Police Don’t Know Enough About Teenagers

I was happy to read “Police Don’t Know Enough About Teenagers” in the New York Times. 

It documents the 71% decrease in teen detention rate changes in Indiana’s Tippecanoe County from 2013 to the present, as its 400 police officers took a course called “Policing the Teen Brain.” The program, offered by Strategies for Youth in Cambridge, MA., focuses on adolescent development, the effect of trauma on teen behavior, and de-escalation and listening techniques, all of which have reduced the number of arrests of teens significantly.

The county has gone further – offering teens at risk substance abuse and mental health counseling as well as anger management training. There is also a companion program, “Parenting the Teen Brain,” to help parents better understand and respond to their kids’ behaviors to prevent them from calling police to intervene. This is essential, points out program director Lisa Thurau, because detention has disastrous effects on teens’ ability to graduate from high school, go on to college, get a decent-paying job, and it is also another source of trauma for that child and his family.

In 2017-2018 Shine Global made the short documentary, “Virtually Free,” in Richmond, VA. We filmed teens in detention working with local artists to create art that expressed their life experiences. Part of the filming was of local police undergoing a 1-day training in adolescent development, the effects of early childhood trauma, and the impact of detention on the physical and emotional well-being of teens as depicted in the virtual jail cell they created with local artists to describe their personal experiences. “Virtually Free” is now showing at the Heartland Film Festival Shorts Program as well as in schools, community programs, juvenile justice programs and police forces across the country.

We applaud Lisa, her program “Strategies for Youth.” and the thousands of police officers in dozens of states who’ve gone through this training. Helping a police officer to reframe a teen’s behavior as expectable rather than threatening encourages them to respond with curiosity and concern rather than force, and everyone wins.