Police in Laurel partner with B&G Club in community policing effort

By Tony E. Windsor

Police in Laurel are joining together in a partnership with community youth to help in a proactive approach to issues of crime and drugs.The Laurel Police Department is taking advantage of the location of a Boys & Girls Club in the community and one of the youth organization teen-based prevention programs.

The program, called T.I.T.A.N. (Teens Inspired To Act Now), engages young people in positive activities to deter them from getting involved in risky behavior including violence, and bullying that creates an unhealthy environment for youth.

The Boys & Girls Clubs of Delaware, the state largest youth serving agency, has experienced dramatic growth in teen participation and teen program offerings over the past three years in large part due to the TITAN program, which in addition to the Laurel club is also being operated in Boys & Girls Club sites in Seaford, Milford, Newark, and Dover.

Chris Couch, Executive Director of the Western Sussex Boys and Girls Club in Seaford and Laurel, says the TITAN Program is a great tool for reaching out to a very significant and highly at-risk group, the area teenagers. The TITAN Program has opened our doors to hundreds of teens at the Laurel and Seaford Boys and Girls Clubs during the primary risk hours, he said. We have been amazed at the number of teens who have joined the program.

In Laurel, Police Chief Danny Wright has seized on the opportunity to have a large group of young people as an audience for interaction with his police officers. The TITAN program gives him the resource he needs to implement another dynamic in the police department community policing initiatives.

We try hard to make efforts throughout the town to foster relationships with our youth, Wright said. The Boys and Girls Club is an awesome organization that aids in the development of our youth. Our police officers try their best throughout the day when time allows to spend time at the Boys and Girls Club. This can be very hard at times given the manpower and complaint loads. But I firmly believe our youth are our town and country future. Spending quality time with the young people is very important. Re-enforcing positive interaction with our youth will reap benefits not only now, but in the future to come.

Wright said in addition to the Boys & Girls Club program, Laurel Police officers also make time to spend in the local schools. We currently have an officer, Mark Hudson, assigned part time to work solely in our elementary schools and alternates weekly between North Laurel and Paul Dunbar elementary schools. Officer Hudson is doing a fantastic job fostering positive and everlasting relationships with these young children, he said.

Wright says by working with the elementary-age children and also the teens at the Boys & Girls Club, there are positive relationships being forged between the policer and young people.

The concept is to have the youth understand that law enforcement officers are their friends and are here to protect and help them, Wright said.

Couch said the officers of the Laurel Police Department play a significant role in helping the organization promote the mission of the TITAN program and their presence is invaluable. The Laurel Police Department has been a great partner and is proactive in being involved in the community it serves, he said. On most, if not every Friday night, an officer can be found at the Laurel Boys and Girls Club, because they know that is where the teens are going to be.

I believe their ongoing presence at the Club is what community policing is all about and gives our teens the opportunity to see officers as an individual behind the badge. They are engaged with our teens and many of our members know them by name for the right reasons. The Laurel Police Department should be applauded for the job they are doing not just at the Laurel Boys & Girls Club but throughout the town of Laurel.

In addition to supporting the teen TITAN program, Couch said police officers have taken an active role in other phases of the youth development organization. During the annual Youth of the Year (YOY) program, which spotlights a teen selected from each site in the state to compete statewide in Wilmington for the B&G Clubs of Delaware YOY. Longtime Laurel Police Officer John Ryall served as a judge for Laurel YOY competition.

While the TITAN program is a combination of recreational programming and prevention/educational offerings, the overall design was created using feedback from the teens themselves. The concept for the Friday night teen events was developed through feedback from teens who attended a Boys and Girls Club Town Meeting held in Newark three years ago.

According to Rachel Kane, statewide TITAN program coordinator, the program has been successfully growing in teen participation since it started in 2014. In true Boys & Girls Clubs fashion, we look to bring the teens to our buildings using recreational offerings, she said. Once we have the teens attending regularly, we use relationship building between staff and teens to recruit for our evidence-based prevention and education programs, including anti-violence, drugs and suicide prevention.

Christian Horsey, former Boys & Girls Club member and now Laurel Teen Services Director, said the TITAN program attracts as many as 30 teens on Wednesday nights and 45 teens during the Friday night programs each week.

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