Meeting on common ground, teens and cops discuss distrust - WNEM TV 5

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Meeting on common ground, teens and cops discuss distrust

Posted: Updated: Feb 27, 2016 12:01 AM
(Source: WNEM) (Source: WNEM)
SAGINAW COUNTY, MI (WNEM) -

A local teenager lays it on the line: if we're going to trust the people who protect us, they have to trust us too.

As police nationwide come under more scrutiny, tension between them and young people has grown.

"I don't know about you all, but the cops are here, I'm out man, I'm out man," said Gerald Segrest.

Segrest said that's just a taste of the trust issue between teens and police.

Some said they leave the house everyday wondering if they'll make it home safe at night without a deadly interaction with police.

"Some youth are thinking cops are just out to hurt instead of help, so a lot of kids try to void or talk smart," said Riley.               

Art O’Neal, Saginaw Schools security chief said, "It happens in Frankenmuth, it happens in Hemlock, it happens in Saginaw Township, where kids thinks cops are jerks, and cops thinks kids are jerks."

And police feel the same way: will a deadly confrontation with a teen keep them from seeing their families again?

"When a police officer walks in, the first thing that comes to people's minds is what's wrong? Why are you here?" O’Neal said.

At the request of the Saginaw County Mental Health Authority, TV5 got the two sides together. The wounds were still fresh from this. 

The death of Milton Hall in July 2012.

He wasn't a teen, but he was homeless and he had mental health issues and was killed by police while wielding a knife.

Some said the way city police handled the situation is still fresh on their minds and has tarnished their trust with those sworn to protect and serve.

But there's one woman working to repair that trust, rather than allowing anger to crumble this city.

"Putting together trainings to help law enforcement to understand and be more comfortable with individuals that they interacted with that experience symptoms of mental health or behavior health issues," said Nancy Johnson.

Johnson is the supervisor for crisis intervention services for Saginaw County.

Milton Hall was in her office just hours before he died.

She teaches police about some of the issues people have in the community and tries to bridge the gap between the two.

But in that process, she uncovered one missing piece.

"If we are going to heal our community, we need to start with youth," Johnson said.

And that sparked an idea, she wanted local teenagers, the very ones police interact with on a daily basis, be the ones to drive a training video for Saginaw County law enforcement.

After many hours of discussing how to go about it, the theme is simple.

Everybody is somebody's baby and everybody wants to get home alive.

"We had a vision, but we needed to hear the vision that youth had, and how we could really engage them," Johnson said.

Her idea is to get police and teenagers from across the county in the very same room and talk about the tension.

TV5 opened our studios for the discussion that lasted for more than an hour.

The teens focused early on the distrust they have with those in authority.

"You know, respect goes both ways. I have respect for officers, but the officers got to respect me too," Segrest said. "You know, if respect ain't in the conversation we're having, it ain't going to work out."

Saginaw Police’s Jordan Bady said, "That is absolutely correct. I think respect is given to those who respect others, and us being in a position of authority or power, we need to understand that the way we talk to people and the way we handle things may not be OK at some times."

They opened up about the feeling they get when they see police. Many said bluntly that police only cause trouble. The two sides talked it through, in a very honest and frank way.

"In the summertime, I was hooping with my friends, and a cop rolled passed, pulled up, he got on the microphone and said 3, 2, 1 and honked his horn or whatever, that kind of made me smile, and yeah, just little stuff like that can establish a relationship," Segrest said.

Frankenmuth Police Officer Tom Daugharty said, "I think that's very important for youth to see us as really who we are, not the blue uniform, or brown uniform that we wear. So very important to me."

Both sides laid out how vulnerable they feel when interacting with the other.

It didn't take long for the young adults and police to find common ground.

"It don't have to take long at all, like you could just, like drive past and say hey man, I like your shoes," Segrest said.

In the end, the police heard the concerns some youth have and the youth listened to police lay out what they'd like to see.

"I was, I was dumbfounded," Johnson said. "First of the all, just the response we got was so awesome. Law enforcement, the kids, the youth leaders, the schools, I was so happy that TV5 embraced this program, I'm so grateful to TV5."

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