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Bedford Cops and Teens Work Out Their Differences

BEDFORD, N.Y. -- There are always some teens in a community who clash with the police, leading to a hostile and antagonistic relationship.

That issue was addressed by local police officers and Fox Lane High School students when they met this month to take part in Bedford’s Youth Police Initiative.

“The program was designed to get (the students) to understand the officer as a person instead of just a uniform,” said Detective Joe Comunale, who helped to organize the two-week after-school program, which also included teenagers from Abbot House in Brooklyn and the Bronx.

Comunale said that at first officers were “a little skeptical,” but quickly warmed to the program, which was hosted in-house at the Bedford Police Station and run by two facilitators from the North American Family Institute.

“We try to team up police with kids, build bridges, break down barriers and strengthen ties in the community,” said Bedford Police Chief William Hayes.

The program, which involved five officers from the Bedford department and five from Mount Kisco, featured group discussions and team exercises. One was a role reversal, in which officers and teens played out scenarios that re-created situations with the potential to turn confrontational.

“Kids got to know why we handle things the way we do,” Comunale said.

According to Comunale, teens often complain that police officers are unreasonable, but the program allowed the officers to explain why, for example, they would order a group to disperse from a commercial area.

When teens are lingering in front of a store, he said, businesses owners have a harder time getting people in; a group of kids crowded in front of a shop can be off-putting to customers.

At the end of the class there were one-on-one interviews between the police officers and the students, most of whom were selected by school guidance counselors after being identified as at-risk youth.

“They got to know the person on a personal level. We shared a lot of time sitting one-on-one with the kids and talked about how we became police officers. We shared a lot about our lives,” Comunale said.

This is the Bedford program’s first year, but the initiative has been successful in other Westchester towns, Hayes said.

He said 10 students already are planning to do another session in April or May.

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