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Your analysis of your local problem should give you a better understanding of the factors contributing to it. Once you have analyzed your local problem and established a baseline for measuring effectiveness, you should consider possible responses to address the problem.
The following response strategies provide a foundation of ideas for addressing your particular problem. These strategies are drawn from a variety of research studies and police reports. Several of these strategies may apply to your community's problem. It is critical that you tailor responses to local circumstances, and that you can justify each response based on reliable analysis. In most cases, an effective strategy will involve implementing several different responses. Law enforcement responses alone are seldom effective in reducing or solving the problem. Do not limit yourself to considering what police can do: give careful consideration to who else in your community shares responsibility for the problem and can help police better respond to it. Give special consideration to involving youth themselves in seeking solutions to the problems caused by their gathering in public.†
† See Kenney and Watson (1998) for a description of an effort to get high school students to apply problem-solving skills to address school safety issues.
There are three general approaches to addressing problems of disorderly youth in public places:
Whenever possible, the developmental and accommodation approaches are recommended because they are more likely to be effective, and they reduce mistrust and hostility between youth and authority figures, including police.7 The general public and the media tend to react negatively to what they perceive as heavy-handed police responses against youth. Parents commonly complain when police resort to arrest as a means of solving youth disorder problems. Some young people may even find the extra efforts of police and others to control their conduct exciting—a game of cat and mouse—making disorderly behavior even more appealing to them.8
The following are specific responses that police and others have applied to youth disorder in public. These responses variously incorporate pure control, developmental and accommodation approaches. They are organized into three categories: (1) creating alternative legitimate places and activities for youth, (2) modifying public places to discourage disorderly behavior, and (3) establishing and enforcing rules of conduct for youth.
† Police athletic leagues, first started in New York City in 1914, are now an institutionalized means by which the police help provide alternative positive activities for youth. Part of their stated mission is to prevent juvenile delinquency.2. Providing outreach services to youth. In addition to needing recreation, entertainment and a place to socialize, some young people need health, legal and social services that they do not or cannot obtain through normal channels. Some youth who create public disorder are supported by stable families, but others are not. Some are runaways, substance abusers, victims of child neglect and abuse, homeless, or prostitutes. Police can support initiatives to provide outreach services to youth.13 These services can be an effective bridge between youth and formal authorities like the police.14 Outreach workers can help identify particular needs of youth groups and individuals, and broker services and assistance for them. They can also remind youth to behave appropriately in public, without threatening them with enforcement.
† The local law also regulates operation hours, occupancy limits, age restrictions, lighting, restroom access, and conduct rules in video arcades. The Delta Police Department's study of the problem and local law has served as a model across Canada (Sheard 1998).[Full Text]If youth rely on cars to get to the location, or if cars are the attraction (part of a street cruising problem), consider altering parking regulations to limit youths' ability to gather a lot of cars in one place.27
† For a review of research on the effects of CCTV and street lighting on crime prevention, see Painter and Tilley (1999).[Full Text] See also Response Guide No. 4, Video Surveillance of Public Places.
An Effective Strategy in New York City
Police Officer Kevin O'Connor of New York City's Midtown North precinct faced an ongoing problem with disorderly youth for most of the 1991–92 school year. Each day at dismissal, students from both Park West High School on W. 50th Street and Graphic Arts High School on W. 49th Street would flood the blocks in the immediate neighborhood. Large and noisy groups would hang out in the area, and fights would all too often erupt.
O'Connor realized that the schools' procedures contributed to the disorderly youth gatherings—the schools were dismissing their students at almost exactly the same time, onto the same block of W. 50th Street. With energy running high, the crowding of all those teenagers onto one block produced a chaotic atmosphere that was perfect for escalating petty rivalries into full-scale confrontations—always noisy, sometimes violent and inevitably a major problem for those in the area.
O'Connor got in touch with administrators at both schools. The assistant principal of Park High helped O'Connor understand that "the problem is not only school rivalries, but ethnic and neighborhood rivalries. These schools draw students from different neighborhoods." O'Connor then met with the principals from both high schools, and persuaded them to stagger dismissal times and direct departing students in opposite directions. Since most of the students from Graphic Arts lived in Brooklyn, they would be dismissed at 2:30 p.m. and diverted to 49th Street, where they could catch the 8th Avenue trains back home. Students from Park High would be dismissed at 2:55 p.m., and since most lived in Washington Heights, they would be directed to the trains at 50th Street and Broadway.
This simple strategy—modifying the schools procedures—effectively discouraged the formation of disorderly groups at the end of the school day. O'Connor believes that the procedural changes reduced the after-school disorder problem by 70 percent.
Note: This account is excerpted with minor stylistic modifications from New York City Police Department (1993).
† There is a considerable body of literature on truancy and the police role in addressing it that you may want to consult if you use truancy enforcement as a response to disorderly youth problems.15. Enforcing curfew laws.Curfew laws are intended to keep youth off the streets at night, so that they are more likely to be under adult supervision at home. Some jurisdictions, such as Orlando, Fla., have imposed curfews on juveniles only in the downtown entertainment districts, where problems have been concentrated. Whether curfew enforcement is effective at reducing youth disorder depends on particular local conditions.49 In many jurisdictions, youth are more likely to cause trouble after school than at night.50
† See O'Brien and Joseph (1999) for a discussion of the pros and cons of juvenile curfews.16. Banning troublemakers from private property.If youth are congregating and creating disturbances on privately owned property, such as business parking lots or apartment complexes, you might consider securing authority from the property owners for the police to enforce trespass laws.
Trespass enforcement was one of a combination of responses St. Petersburg, Florida, police used to reduce problems caused by students' gathering in a convenience store parking lot. Stricter truancy enforcement by school officials and the turning off of video games in the convenience store during school hours were the other key responses.52 Newport News, Virginia, police also used trespass enforcement to deal with disorderly youth at a shopping plaza, and encouraged judges to order convicted offenders to stay away from the plaza as a condition of a suspended sentence.53
Shopping malls are generally considered private rather than public places, giving mall owners and managers greater legal authority to deny access to the premises, but in many jurisdictions, they are considered quasi-public. You should consult with legal counsel in deciding how the police can properly support this response.‡ Police agencies should establish specific policy guidelines that cover police officers authority and responsibilities in helping mall authorities enforce the bans. You must take special care not to support arbitrary or discriminatory banning practices. Identities of banned youth should be provided to merchants and security staff.
‡ American courts recognize the quasi-public nature of shopping malls and have extended certain constitutional guarantees, especially those relating to free speech and assembly, to those visiting malls. The extent to which a mall is considered public or private depends in part on whether there are any public rightsof-way on the mall grounds. Malls with public transportation links, government offices or police substations on the premises are more likely to be deemed quasi-public, thereby limiting mall owners' right to exclude certain people.
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