When Youth Coordination Officer Tyrone Saxon entered East New York’s NYPD Community Center dining hall on May 26, he was greeted by a round of applause and approving yells by a room of teens.
These days, an officer greeted with cheers in place of jeers by youth may seem like a peculiar sight — but according to Saxon, it is all thanks to the NYPD’s new program aimed at building greater trust with local youth.
Dubbed “Adopt a Cop,” the six-week initiative allows the adolescents themselves to choose an officer to become their mentor, and over the course of the program both the officers and youth developed a relationship through fun activities that were coupled with heart-to-heart talks.
“Believe it or not, I actually learned a lot more from them than they probably learned from me,” Saxon told amNewYork Metro at the dinner celebrating the culmination of the enterprise. “I see these kids every day I talk to them. I engage with them. I know their families, but it’s just breathtaking that young people can come in here with a certain opinion about how they feel about police and before they get to leave, I get a chance to put an impact on their life to show them there are good officers, this is a good profession.”
When 17-year-old Taylor Cole first arrived in the program, she admitted that she did not trust the NYPD. Television and community rumors had her form a negative opinion of the department.
But after weeks playing games like dodgeball or performing escape rooms with members of New York’s Finest, Cole’s opinion began to shift.
“We got to know one another and do things like feed the homeless or play fun games,” Cole said. “I realized that not all police officers are bad and that there are some that actually want to give back to the community.”
For officers like Crystal Small, this is a high praise. As an officer who grew up in the area and yearned to become an NYPD officer from a young age, she is overcome with emotion that she could serve as a bridge between law enforcement and children, creating a safer environment.
“That actually makes me feel great because you might not be able to reach everybody. But as long as you reach one, I say reaching one is awesome. So, to be able to have a bunch of kids say that, that’s amazing,” Small told amNewYork Metro.
The NYPD hopes the “Adopt A Cop” program will change teenagers’ perspectives of see patrolling officers as friends to rely on instead rather than people to fear. Although the six weeks have ended, officers will continue mentoring the youth until the end of the year, but both the officers and the children say they have made friends for life.