The Kingston Police Department is zeroing in on youth with the formation of a new unit that aims to deal with wayward kids by establishing a bond of trust with the city’s youngest citizens.

The initiative is part of a broader push to re-orient the KPD towards a community policing model and follow through on Mayor Shayne Gallo’s campaign promise to address quality-of-life problems and juvenile delinquency.

“There’s a lot of stuff that we need to be part of, because if we can get kids to trust us now, they’ll trust us as adults,” said Kingston Police Chief Egidio Tinti. “Right now, the cops get called when kids do bad things, we’re trying to get there before that happens.”

The newly created Youth Bureau will consist of three Kingston cops — Harry Woltman, Chris Hulbert and John Kurz — who work in Kingston schools, as well as the department’s juvenile crime detective, Tim Bowers. The school resource officers will continue to walk the beat in the halls of Kingston High School but, as part of the Youth Bureau, they will spend school vacations operating from a headquarters at the Everette Hodge neighborhood center on Franklin Street. In the past, the SRO’s would return to the ranks of the department’s patrol division during school vacations. Now, as part of the Youth Bureau, they will spend those vacation days helping to organize sports programs, connecting with kids in city parks and addressing citizen complaints about everything from juvenile crime to run-of-the-mill youthful rowdiness. Other officers from the Patrol Division will rotate through the bureau so that they can gain expertise in the complexities of juvenile justice and form their own relationships with kids.

The school resource officers already play a role in policing off school grounds. The campus cops are often the first place detectives investigating graffiti vandalism check in to identify a tag. Bowers credits the SRO’s “ears to the ground” operation with significantly lowering his caseload by defusing potentially serious situations before they erupt into violence.

“They take a proactive approach and they deal with things that a few years ago would have resulted in delinquent acts,” said Bowers.

Summers too

With the Youth Bureau, Tinti hopes to export that approach to the city’s parks and streets during the summer months when parents are working and kids are often at loose ends. Bowers said that the unit could be particularly useful in addressing issues, like large groups of teens hanging out on a street corner, that may not rise to the level of crime (“delinquent acts” in youth-cop parlance) but nonetheless create friction and annoyance in city neighborhoods. Bowers said neighborhood outreach and citizen involvement will be key to the effort.

Slideshow image: Police Chief Tinti and Mayor Gallo speak Monday on the new Youth Bureau. (Photo by Dan Barton)