Photo by Shilah Montiel

SMPD vs. Teens @ Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Monica

With anxieties about institutionalized racism and brutality in law enforcement reaching a fever pitch around the country, Santa Monica police and local teens squared off for an epic showdown on Feb. 25 — on the basketball court, that is.

The “Teens and Law Enforcement Together as One” event at the Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Monica sought to strengthen ties between officers and local youth by putting the kids in control of the program, asking their own questions and peering into a world often closed to them by fear, suspicion and an uneven balance of power.

Sgt. Chris Smith, a 19-year veteran of the department, said the daylong event differed from the typical outreach SMPD officers do at local schools.

“This came from the kids. They put it together and came to us, which was really exciting. They get to guide it, with questions they want to know about us,” he said.

Around 60 teens rotated in group activities with about 15 SMPD staff, including sergeants, detectives, cadets, first responders, forensic specialists and community outreach workers. Activities included a jeopardy game, role-playing traffic stops in which teens did the policing and officers did their best to create challenging scenarios, a career panel, and the culminating friendly basketball game.

The project was part of a national effort with Keystone, the Boys & Girls Clubs’ youth-led community service group. President Connor Young and Vice President Delena Tiku, both 17, organized the local event.

“We kept in mind that we want to see police officers as people and how we want to be perceived by police officers,” Tiku said.

For Det. Roy Brown, who helped develop the SMPD’s juvenile diversion program, the traffic stop role-playing was the day’s highlight – especially “being able to see the kids interact, how they navigate through that without any type of training,” he said. “Just seeing their eyes, seeing how they were a little nervous, but some became a lot more confident.”

During a career panel session, curious minds wanted to know: “Do officers get maced during training?” (“Yes, a generous amount”) and “Are they obligated to shut down protests on college campuses if asked by the school’s administration?” (Sgt. Smith reminded everyone of their constitutional right to peacefully protest).

Mylan Ross, 17, acknowledged that she came to the event with some preconceptions about police and their role in society “with all the police brutality going on recently, especially the one in Anaheim,” she said, referring to the recent incident in which an off-duty police officer pulled a gun on an unarmed teenager. “It makes [police] seem like they’re all truly terrible, like they’re all criminals.”

Asked if she has felt unsafe, Ross nodded. “Especially because I’m African-American. I have a younger brother, he’s 15, and my mom is always saying, ‘Do not walk around with a hood on, especially at night, because you can get pulled over.’ … I was always nervous about that. I know that I’m a girl but that can still happen to me.”

But Ross left the club with a different outlook.

“Coming to this event, actually participating and meeting law enforcement and having one-on-one conversations with them, it really changed my perspective,” she said. “They really are just humans and trying their best, and they’re not terrible people.”

 — Beige Luciano-Adams

The Outstanding Women Leaders Breakfast honors Emmy-winning documentarian Amy Ziering and Santa Monica Assistant City Manager Elaine Polacheck on Friday, March 10.

Pedal from the pier to Temescal Canyon Road on a group Bike Hike from 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, March 11.

Lobsterdamus, Cheezus, Goa-taco, Amazebowls and other favorites are on the pier from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, March 11, for Smorgasburg LA’s first Westside food truck festival.

Celebrate the Girl Scouts’ 105th Birthday at the Santa Monica History Museum, with half-price admission sparkling cider, cupcakes and lemonade on Saturday, March 11.

Camera Obscura Art Lab Studio Resident Grace Hwang hosts an Intercultural  Dumpling Making Party from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, March 11.

The Church in Ocean Park hosts a community gift exchange from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday, March 12. Bring something you don’t need and leave with something you do.