Fifteen-year-old Clover Park High School sophomore Nyah Hall said she discovered law enforcement officers aren’t much different from her own parents. Similarly, Joint Base Lewis-McChord police officer William Oman learned many youths in Hillside Youth Center’s Keystone Club like to laugh.
The two found out these things and many more characteristics they share in common as they and a few dozen other teens and members of the installation’s law enforcement community joined together for a two-hour event at the youth center on Lewis Main Jan. 20. “Uniting Forces: Teen and Law,” is a national project initiated by the Boys & Girls Club of America, of which Hillside’s leadership program, Keystone Club, is a part.
The event involved musical chairs and other games, such as “I Like People Who...,” as well as introductory ice breakers and, ultimately, discussions.
Each year, the national Boys & Girls Club suggests a project to help educate and engage young people with their community. This year’s project is in response to Internet, social media and news stories of conflict between law enforcement and civilians, according to Joycelyn Key, Hillside Youth Center’s Keystone adviser.
“I think having an event like this is important because even if (teens at the center) don’t have much interaction with police they are likely to stereotype or have prejudgments,” Key said. “This will help teens and police get to know each other and overcome that stereotyping.”
During conversations and games at the start of the event, eight JBLM police officers and about 15 young people learned a bit about each other.
“Oh, you’re in band at Lakes High School?” said officer Jason Miller, JBLM Police, to Jasmine Gilyard, 14, a freshman at Lakes. “I know your band instructor.”
“Oh yeah — she’s great,” Jasmine said.
Miller also connected with Nyah, telling her that his daughters graduated from Clover Park High School in 2011 and 2012.
Oman said he was glad for the opportunity to get to know young people on base because his duties occur primarily in the swing shift, meaning he rarely connects with teens, unless it is when he responds to domestic disturbances.
“I’ve had calls where parents and kids aren’t getting along, so it’s nice to interact with the youth so I can see where they are coming from,” he said.
The end portion of the event involved a panel discussion when teens asked the officers questions. Many of those questions involved thoughts on race relations and racial profiling. Key said that was relevant to Hillside’s young people because a large percent of the teens are minority races.
Janaiya Davis, a 15-year-old sophomore at Lakes High School, led the discussion by asking a list of questions prepared for the police officers. Janaiya, who serves as Keystone Club treasurer, said she volunteered for the leadership position because she is a bit shy and likes to push herself outside her comfort zone.
“This has been a good way to interact,” she said. “I think the questions and answers came together well. I really haven’t had a lot of bad interaction with police, but I think it’s good to know what to expect so you don’t just stereotype.”
Sergeant Porsha Strand, JBLM Military Police officer and noncommissioned officer in charge of the crime suppression unit, 51st Military Police Detachment, 42nd Military Police Brigade, also felt good about the interaction between law enforcement and youths.
However, she echoed several of the young people in suggesting the next quarterly activity with Keystone Club and police should be less talk and more carefree interaction.
“A volleyball game would be good for competition and getting to know each other,” she said, “And, as the kids suggested, no uniforms — maybe we can wear police T-shirts and they can wear Keystone shirts.”
Ted Solonar, JBLM chief of police, said he was pleased with the evening of talk and games between youths and law enforcement.
“I’ve been doing this (working in law enforcement) for 30 years, and this is the first time we’ve done something like this,” he said. “My hope is that this is the first step in dialogue.”