March 10, 2010

Youths caught doing good things to get ticket -- for a reward

DAVID HENCH

— By

Staff Writer

Everyone loves that Norman Rockwell image of kids and police officers interacting with genuine warmth, but it seldom happens, given the different worlds they occupy.

Portland's Public Health Division and Police Department are teaming up to change that, collaborating on a program to have officers ''catch kids doing good.''

Modeled after a successful program in British Columbia, the initiative will have officers hand out tickets to young people who are seen doing something helpful, constructive or safe. The citations will be redeemable for tickets to sporting events, sandwiches and other rewards.

''As a society, we spend so much time paying attention to kids who aren't doing the right thing,'' said police Lt. Bill Preis. ''I'm not saying that's not important and necessary, but sometimes kids who are doing all the right things are sort of left in the cold.''

The goal of the program is to encourage good behavior by the city's youths and build relationships between young people and authority figures such as police, said Ronni Katz, substance abuse prevention coordinator for the city. The program is being organized through One Maine, One Portland, a coalition that works to create a positive, substance-free environment for youths in Portland.

Officers will use their discretion to determine what constitutes good works, Katz said.

''It could be anything from being helpful to another youth or adult to shooting hoops in the park because you chose to do something positive instead going out drinking or drugging,'' Katz said. ''For a younger child, it could be wearing a helmet when riding a bicycle.''

Through the program in British Columbia, police have given out tens of thousands of tickets, and crime among youths has dropped 41 percent, Katz said.

''We just thought it was a great way to change the whole culture of how youth and authority relate to each other,'' she said. ''A lot of times, kids do want to get to know police officers but there's a lot of friction between them. This breaks that down.''

Katz said the program will help differentiate between what people often think are bad kids and what she believes are good kids behaving badly. ''If you give them other avenues and more positive options, they'll often take them,'' she said.

The program is scheduled to begin around the start of the school year.

The first organization to offer prizes is the Portland Pirates, which has donated 5,000 tickets. Youths who earn free tickets to hockey games will be able to bring adult guests for $9 and get the best available seats.

''It was an easy 'yes' for us,'' said Zachary Davis, director of ticket sales for the minor league team. ''This program will work because it gives children positive goals to work toward instead of focusing on negative consequences to avoid, which is directly in line with the objectives of (our) organization.''

Katz said she also hopes to recruit bowling alleys, roller rinks, ice rinks and sandwich shops.

The idea grew out of the Parkside Community Policing Center. It was envisioned initially for that part of the city, but Preis suggested that it be extended citywide. He said each police patrol team will be issued tickets to distribute in the course of their patrols.

''It's a great opportunity for kids to have positive interactions with the police because, let's face it, most people -- kids and adults -- usually deal with the police for a bad reason,'' Preis said.

For more information, contact Portland's Public Health Division at 756-8116.

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

dhench@pressherald.com

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