Inner-City Trust

Maria Volpe

Professor of Dispute Resolution, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, City University of New York

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

Since 1993, we've been bringing cops and young people together. I think I can say that in the groups that I've had of young people, there really hasn't been a group that really wanted to come together with police. There's suspicion, lack of trust, their feelings about the police like perhaps no other. These are young children who live in an urban environment where there are always challenges and police can always be present. For many of them, it's a defining moment. They are coming into a room where there are no ground rules, and the police don't have an upper hand. And we prepare the young people to come to the table. A lesson learned there is that you don't just bring them together. A lot of groups bring police into young people groups to lecture to them, more of the authoritative roles from the authorities. What we do is prepare these young people. They come up with the ground rules and they come up with the questions. We type up their questions so that they have them there when we bring them together.

It's really quite touching to see them come together. It's true as it's always been, that no one wants to sit next to the police. So we've now designated spots where the police are sitting, and the kids' can't all bunch up together, they have to sit between the officers. And it's really exciting to see the inches of transformation we're not talking about major transformations, were talking about minor movement. Where a young person who wanted to put the police officers hat on for a picture, or to be photographed with the officers. Not all of them want to be photographed, and that's fine. But they can ask questions, have this dialogue, and ask for explanations, at least for the time that we have them in the room. Is this the defining moment for them? For some it is. But it's a small step in that trust building, in the information gathering on both sides.