When it comes to funding police training programs, Massachusetts is the third worst state, and is underperforming particularly in the category of juvenile justice and sexual assault, according to a recent study.
The study, released Tuesday and conducted by Strategies for Youth, a Cambridge-based legal research training organization, discovered very little funding was being allocated to new officers learning how to properly communicate with teens.
Executive Director of Strategies for Youth and co-author of the study, Lisa Thurau, said teaching officers and juveniles how to better communicate can lower arrest rates.
“We want young people to recognize what behaviors will set off a police officer so as not to escalate the situation and we are trying to train police to do the same,” she said. “We are trying to bring all the science of the teen brain to them so they can understand normative behavior and avoid criminalizing it.”
Thurau said the program has been met with success, but finances have caused a hindrance in implementing the program to all Massachusetts police forces.
“Mass. allocates $187 per officer and we are the third lowest in the country right now, so only the wealthy departments can afford to get their officers all the training that they should have,” she said. “And that means we are having justice in geography which is highly problematic.”
Terrel Harris, communications director for the Executive Office of Public Safety and Security, which oversees the Commonwealth’s Municipal Police Training Committee, acknowledged that there is a significant financial issue.
“The Patrick administration has worked to increase funding for police training,” he said. “We tried to implement a surcharge on auto insurance policies as a designated revenue stream for police training. The Legislature had no appetite for it.”
Harris said juvenile cases are finally being approached in a new way.
“The issue is not new, but the data has finally been correlated to science,” he said. “Police have long known that juveniles are overrepresented in arrest statistics from police encounters, but that overrepresentation has been attributed to teenagers being overrepresented in arrestable offenses.”
Harris said not until recently have police perceptions changed regarding juveniles.
“The police professions have recognized that it was the initial interactions and perceptions between officers and teenagers that set the stage for the outcome,” he said.
Thurau said the greatest improvement from the program was within the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority Transit Police Department.
“In the departments where we provided our intensive training and worked with leadership, we have seen arrest rates plummet,” she said. “We saw this most dramatically with the MBTA transit police where they went from 646 juvenile arrests in 1999 to 74 in 2009.”
Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, Carol Rose, said reducing the number of juvenile arrests could alleviate stress on the court system and protect young offenders.
“Overuse of arrests in schools has effectively created a school-to-prison pipeline,” she said in a statement. “This report details kids getting arrested for offenses like swearing. This is not a good use of limited police and court resources, and minor misbehavior should not lead to a criminal record that could severely affect a child’s future.”
Thurau said the state does not do enough to fund juvenile justice and improve information about the current system.
“Mass. does not collect data from all its police departments on a regular basis, nor does it disaggregate it by race or charge,” she said. “The Executive Office of Public Safety is less than half of a mile from [Massachusetts Institute of Technology], so it is not for lack of resources or intelligence that we don’t know more. More needs to be done.”