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Police-Run Youth Mentoring Programs in Marginalized Communities

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Vernise Estorcien
January 6, 2021

Public agencies addressing the issues facing at-risk youths through youth mentorship have grown in popularity in recent years. Police-run youth mentoring programs (PYMP) are one of several types of mentoring programs that have grown in popularity in the public sector. Given the growing tension between officers and communities of color, agencies offering PYMP targeting at-risk youths understand that pairing a police officer with an at-risk youth requires a special selection of officers for the role. An in-depth study of a youth program in a local police department in Miami Dade County revealed that program leaders overseeing PYMPs targeting at-risk youth follow several program practices: hiring selectivity, training, employee involvement and collaboration.

Hiring Selectivity

Hiring selectivity refers to the rigor of hiring based on the application process, extreme care in matching officers to mentor a child and a conscious effort to ensure officers selected for the position are fit for the role of mentor.

The selection process was described as extremely rigorous, ensuring officers selected were there to help the at-risk children. Several program leaders explained that the selection process began with a department-wide announcement and a description of the job duties. Following the application process, officers must request an interview. One program leader stated, “There’s an interview process with the two supervisors and an officer,” and those selected for the position are ranked based on who interviewed best.

Having previous experience working with marginalized communities and children also was important. Another program leader added, “…we want officers that the youth can relate to…that they can identify with because… our work here is about making bonds and making a connection… thing is, when we interview the officers…if they’ve worked in neighborhood resources, community-oriented assignments, or some of them even have a background of [doing so] before they joined the police department.”


The PYMP placed a strong emphasis on mentors receiving internal and external training for various reasons. First, children in the program have a sibling or family member who has been shot or indirectly affected by gun violence. Having necessary soft skills are crucial to dealing with at-risk youths and marginalized communities. A program leader stated that officers must possess listening skills so when they enter mentees’ households so that they can connect and show empathy and sympathy when needed. In addition to listening skills, officers must differentiate when to use which skills. “We have to be able to listen, be able to provide empathy when we need to provide empathy and sympathy when we need to provide sympathy.”

In addition to internal training, mentors receive external training on diversity, supported by a mentor’s statement when he explained the vast majority of in-house training they received and the opportunities to participate in other departments’ and agencies’ developmental training.

Employee Involvement

The program offers numerous social, educational and professional development programs and activities. Currently, the activities include but are not limited to recreational, educational, social and professional skill-building programs. Officer involvement is a common practice and an integral part of PYMP targeting at-risk youth. Most mentors mentioned their involvement in scheduling activities for the children.

For example, one of the police officers said, “We all…put our heads together to make a schedule of what it is that we’re gonna be doing.” Another officer provided a deeper description when she explained the officers’ effort to expose the youths to opportunities beyond their horizons. For example, the majority of the youths have never left their neighborhoods, gone to the beach or zoo or experienced, “Dade County for the beauty that it represents,” she stated. To enlighten the youths and help them understand that there is more to life than what they have experienced, one of the mentors said, “Our officers expose them to various things, taking them to zoos, taking them to the airport… taking them to events where they learn how to sit, they learn how to eat and how to interact with adults or other kids.”


The PYMP program partners with several agencies and local groups interested in making resources accessible to program staff continuously. Supporting agencies include Miami-Dade County Park Recreation and Open Spaces, Miami-Dade Public Library System and the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Miami. Through collaborative partnerships, program leaders can overcome organizational challenges such as funding for activities, access to venue spaces and protecting youths from high crime neighborhoods and delinquency. Specifically, the police department’s, “Facilities are not conducive for youth to be walking in and out of,” the officer explained.

One of the program leaders explained that their goal is to work with schools and high crime communities because those areas have, “The kids that are the most at-risk,” and the highest gun violence. Hence, program leaders are targeting zip code areas in the north, south and intracoastal districts of Miami-Dade County.

Given the lack of trust and tension between officers and communities of color, PYMP targeting at-risk youths have become an innovative approach used by law-enforcement agencies to protect and enhance police-youth relationships in marginalized communities. Program leaders understand that it takes a unique group of officers to get the work done. Hence, they are selective in who they hire, ensuring officers have the required skill sets and can relate to the youths from targeted socioeconomic backgrounds. Officers’ Direct involvement in planning youth activities and collaborating with outside agencies are also known practices of PYMPs.

Author: Vernise Estorcien is a Ph.D. candidate in the public affairs program in the public policy and administration department at Florida International University. Her research interests and creative activities are in public and nonprofit management, police youth engagement, social equity and race and mixed-method. She may be reached at [email protected].

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