[Years later,] the new chief that took over said “ally” when I asked him if he wanted to be an enemy or an ally. We worked together very well. He said, “Yes, let’s train all my officers.” He was a black officer, a chief named Joseph Carter, who’s a brilliant man, and understood first hand what it’s like to be discriminated against by Boston cops. He helped me raise the money. We trained all his officers. Within nine years, we went from about 649 kids being arrested in 1999, to in 2009, 84 being arrested. This was a tremendous decrease of 84 percent, it affected the disproportionate-minority contact rate.
We just started training everywhere. We said, “You … cannot treat kids like adults. It’s not helpful to criminalize their behavior, as is being pushed by many policies. We need to stop this, understand these are young people.”
What our training did was not only explain the psychology of the teen experience, we also linked officers to youth-serving community-based organizations to use in lieu of arrests. Some officers will go to a family over and over because there’s mental-health issues, or because the family does not have the resources it needs to address its problems. What we did was partner them at these trainings and say, “Look, this is right near where you work, why don’t you bring families to these services, instead of making arrests.” Luckily, the arrest of a kid is a very paper-intensive effort, and they don’t like to do it.
Lantigua-Williams: How did you develop the framework for training?
Thurau: Since 2005, the Supreme Court has directed every juvenile justice system stakeholder, from the legislature to the officer, from probation and judges to a facility, to treat youth differently, to adopt a developmental approach. Training is not being offered to police anywhere in the United States. Here we are in 2016, I cannot identify for you a single curriculum in America that uses a developmentally informed, trauma informed appropriate approach for training officers to be equipped to deal with youth. There’s no evidence-based study of any training that does exist.
Lantigua-Williams: Can we differentiate? I’m always weary of the term trauma-informed. I want you to spell that out and also talk about status offenses. Sometimes teenagers are just being teenagers. In your training, how do you help officers differentiate between those two things?
Thurau: We break down the training: Day one, we make it about “nature.” What was going on in the teen brain? Part one is the normative development of a teen brain, which shows how they perceive, process, and respond differently. The second component that day is looking at mental-health issues of juveniles. We call it the “compromise development.” We focus on the top five mental-health issues of youth: depression, OCD, autism, ADHD, and dysregulation.