St. Louis - Despite having the label as being one of the most dangerous cities in the nation, the St. Louis Police Department offers a number of youth-based programs to aid in crime prevention.
St. Louis’ label as one of the five most dangerous cities in the nation came in 2009 from the crime statistics of the FBI’s uniform crime report, based on the stats of violent crimes in 2008. And in 2006, the city earned the unwanted spot of the most dangerous city, ranking number one among all other cities in the nation.
Visit the crime section of any St. Louis news station’s Web site and you are certain to find proof of the crime plaguing the city, much of which is committed by young adults in their late teens to early 20s.
So the police department tries to push back. Some of the crime prevention programs provided by the police department target youths in their teens and early 20s, and even youths as young as 5.
One of the programs, the St. Louis Police Explorers, embraces a motto of leadership and making better youth for the future.
The Explorers program, composed of a group of about 25 young men and women ages 14 to 21 and led by 3rd district St. Louis Police Lt. Darla Gray, teaches the standards of the International Association of Chiefs of Police, which aim to teach high standards of ethics, integrity, community interaction and professional conduct.
Gray, leader of the program for 29 years, considers the program beneficial for the Explorers because through the program, they become leaders amongst their peers.
“This program teaches them to be leaders because they are less likely to get involved in gangs or drug activity because they know how to be leaders instead of followers,” she said.
Aside from leadership skills, Gray also emphasizes community service opportunities available to Explorers that allow them to work with police officers and receive first-hand experience of police work.
“It’s also about community service,” she said, “(The Explorers) do details in which they interact with all sorts of people. And dealing with bad kids (when at work), the officers find it refreshing to finally be able to deal with good kids.”
According to Gray, along with gaining community service hours the Explorers also learn a variety of police skills such as how to conduct crime scene investigations, how to respond to hostage negotiation situations, first aid treatment and white collar crime.
Police Explorer John Schweiss, 16, joined the Explorers after hearing about it from a friend in the program. He joined with hopes of one day becoming a police officer.
“I am naturally drawn to the profession; it is like a calling for me,” Schweiss said as a smile came across his face.
Schweiss considers the program “useful” and “good” for teens because of the crime prevention tactics the program teaches.
Police Explorer Jerritt Turner, 16, also joined the program after hearing about it through a friend and hopes to become a detective one day.
“I want to become a police officer and then later on a detective,” he said. Turner said that he thinks the occupation is a well-paying job and also jokes about a chance at having fun arresting people.
Although all participants do not express the desire to pursue a career in police work, Gray feels OK with that and still finds the program beneficial to those individuals.
“Even the ones who don’t go into police work know how to not be a victim [of crime],” she said.
Along with the Explorers program are other citizen-based crime prevention programs for youth such as the Police Athletic League, known as PAL, the Gang Resistance Education and Training, known as G.R.E.A.T., and Do The Right Thing. For more information on these programs, along with the Explorers program, visit the St. Louis Police Department’s Web site at www.slmpd.org and search under the “In The Community” section.
Evita Caldwell & Julia Gigliotti are Journalism students at Saint Louis University