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How Newport News police are working to connect with teenagers

Teens said they’re tired of being left out of the conversation on topics that directly affect them. So, NNPD created the Young Adult Police Commissioners.

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. — Teenagers say they’re tired of being left out of the conversation on topics that directly affect them, such as gun violence and schools resource officers.

The Newport News Police Department is working to change all of that with the help of the Young Adult Police Commissioners.

Every Wednesday, about 20 high schoolers meet at the Newport News Police Department. The goal is to build a bridge between teenagers and law enforcement.

"They have a very diverse perspective in how they see the world. I think that it helps us better prepare in how we interact with citizens in the community," says Lt. Cornelius Webster.

The Young Adult Police Commissioners learn the ins and outs of the police department and in turn, they give officers their perspective that often gets left out of the conversation.

"Teen violence and a lot of the shooting issues, they happen in our neighborhoods. We are very aware of them, but a lot of the times, we’re left in the dark because ‘a child should stay in a child’s place’ and 'that’s grown adults business' and things, but we’re almost adults," said Achievable Dream High School junior Drew Cox.

She said the representatives from all six high schools talk about anything and everything from gun violence, domestic violence, drugs, diversity and school resource officers. They even had in-depth discussions on the Heritage High and Menchville High School shootings just days after they happened.

"The first thing Chief Drew did when we got there, we all talked about it. You know, what were we concerned about, what questions did we have," Cox said.

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Chief Steve Drew said he started this program when he arrived in Newport News to show the teens in his community that they matter.

"Those relationships go a long way. The things that we talk about, the things that they see in the community, things that they may hear, it just goes a long way. I don’t take their trust lightly," Chief Drew said.

High school junior Karson Jarman said he takes pride in being a voice for his peers that aren’t in the room.

"If it’s the youth that are dealing with the problem, then the youth should have something to say about it," Jarman said.

Cox said the real beauty of the program is that they feel heard.

"The things that we mention and the things that we want to see changed, they do those things," she says. "We mentioned, you know, I'd like to know more about weed and things because it's becoming a big issue here and Chief Drew was like, 'okay we'll have the narcotics guy come have a forum.'"

Menchville High junior Victoria Grizotti said the program has helped change her perspective of the police department and hopes they've done the same for the officers.

"It helps me see a different aspect of what the police department has to offer. They're not always trying to fight crime, they're also trying to involve themselves with the community more," Grizotti said. "Some of the questions we ask, they may not see that viewpoint until we bring it up and they're like 'oh that is a good viewpoint."

Chief Drew said he hopes with each group that comes through, they are able to make a real difference in their city.

"It’s just sitting down together and talking about real issues," Chief Drew said.

While this year’s class is in full swing, there are ways to get your teen involved in the next session. For more information, click here.

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