Hundreds of Baltimore police officers will undergo new training that includes group and one-on-one sessions with Baltimore youth so both groups can better relate to each other and break down barriers.
The program is expected to pair as many as 500 Baltimore police officers with area middle school and high school students in meetings where they will discuss perceptions of each other. It was announced Wednesday by Mayor Catherine Pugh, Councilman Brandon Scott and Police Commissioner Kevin Davis in Waverly at the Community Mediation center, a nonprofit group that will be overseeing program.
The idea for the sessions originated after the riots and unrest that grew out of the death of Freddie Gray after a police van ride in April 2015, which exposed a deepening level of distrust toward police.
"After the unrest, we needed to repair the relationship between our police and our young people," Scott said. "They felt like they were world's apart."
Scott and then-police commissioner Anthony W. Batts approached Community Mediation to create a program that would bring officers and youth together. In the fall of 2015, 30 middle school students and 30 Baltimore officers met over meetings as part of the pilot program, said Shantay Guy, executive director of Community Mediation.
In August, the Abell Foundation provided $60,000 funding to expand the program for between 200 and 500 officers.
The sessions will be included as part of mandatory in-service training for officers before it may become part of the Baltimore Police Academy, dependent on future funding.
"Ideally we'd like to reach all the officers," Guy said.
Joe Banks, a 17-year Baltimore police officer who went through the sessions, said officers and youth went into the sessions clearly divided but came out having a new understanding and empathy for each other.
"It is a different time," Banks said. "Our youth are going through things that growing up we didn't have to worry about."