YONKERS, N.Y. –Yonkers officials are taking a bottoms-up approach to fighting crime.
Police brass, politicians and community leaders are targeting city children because the key to combating delinquency, they say, begins before people land behind bars.
“We try to prevent crime by tying to develop relationships with children before they get involved in crime,” Yonkers Police Commissioner Charles Gardner said last week at a town hall meeting hosted by County Legislator Virginia Perez (D-Yonkers).
As a result, the Yonkers Police Department has created a number of programs for city children, including the “Youth and Police Initiative.” The program targets at-risk children, engaging them in activities with police in an effort to break down barriers of communication, Gardner said. Children are responding in a positive way, he said.
“We do these programs and we find them to be successful,” he said.
Police also are working with the Yonkers Public Schools to prevent truancy, which they say often is an indicator of future criminal activity. A study by the Department of Justice backs up the claim, finding school-age children and teens ditching class on a regular basis are more likely to use drugs and engage in criminal and other high-risk behaviors.
Perez said it was vital to keep children in the classroom and off the streets.
“We have to find a way to keep them in school so we don’t have a teenager standing on the street corner being recruited by a gang member instead of being recruited by a college counselor,” she said.
County Legislator Ken Jenkins (D-Yonkers) added he would like to see an increased effort on the county level in investing in preventative programs. While the county has been lauded for its state-of-the art correctional facility, “wouldn't it be better if we didn’t have people there in the first place?” Jenkins said.
He suggested 10 percent of the county’s $400 million corrections and probation budget be invested in things like education or police cadet programs in schools.
“Those programs are being taken away at a time people have less income, less opportunity and it’s a vicious cycle,” he said.
Damon Jones, head of Blacks in Law Enforcement of America’s Westchester Chapter said he would like to see more Yonkers children ending up serving their communities as police officers and pledged to work with the department to make that happen.
“We’re going to work with them and try to get young, college-educated people to go into the departments where they live,” he said.