Consistently youth and more specifically at-risk teens exhibit the least “trust” of the law enforcement and the criminal justice system as a whole. This lack of trust stems from: involuntary and voluntary police contacts, family socialization, vicarious experiences, historical use of the criminal justice system against minority groups, examples of unwarranted physical and deadly force, slower response times, irrelevant stops and profiling. These researched conclusions create dissatisfaction, social distance, and apathy.
Social distance expands the gap between at-risk teens and police. Social distance scales have been used for almost one hundred years to measure the distance between groups nationally and internationally. The resounding conclusion is as contact and familiarity increases, social distance decreases. Thus the more time at-risk teens spend with police officers in a community policing atmosphere, such as TAPS Academy; social distance will decrease, elevating trust, support and assistance to law enforcement agencies in the future.
The current strain between at-risk teens and police limits the success of law enforcement which depends on the general public to provide a host of information and assistance. Without community policing and with strained relations, policing can become passive and thus the effectiveness of policing declines.
A reality is that the teen and young adult population is the most socially distant from the police and yet also most in need of their protection, as these young people are disproportionately victims of violent crime. This population often follows a cycle of offender today and victim tomorrow. TAPS Academy recognizes that at-risk teens have four distinct characteristics: a high propensity to be involved in criminal activity; a high likelihood to be victims of crime, especially violent crime; the lowest trust levels and dislike for police; and finally low participation in community building/civic engagement. Conversely, the police have three distinct characteristics: may see at-risk, especially minority youth as risks to the well-being of the community; have a higher comfort level with traditional policing method as opposed to the community policing model; and finally desire strategies that will improve communication and understanding to better serve their population.
TAPS Academy is a researched based mentoring program that reduces social distance and builds community.