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Cops and Kids

Background and Purpose

In 1994, Constitutional Rights Foundation began holding Cops & Kids conferences in Los Angeles. The conference was developed in response to teachers’ concerns about youth and police relations following the Rodney King verdict and civil unrest. Middle school teachers shared their observations that many students were expressing negative views about the police, and with a police station only blocks away, altercations between their students and officers were steadily rising. The teachers asked if CRF could assist them in addressing these issues.


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Research indicates that the most significant predictor of negative attitudes about the police is previous negative interaction. Not surprisingly, positive interactions with the police serve as the most common factor in the development of positive attitudes. Research in the areas of delinquency prevention and the development of pro-social values among youth offers guidance about what kinds of police-youth contacts are most effective. They include those that help young people develop significant relations with officers that are integrated into a child’s educational development; and those that provide students with a realistic and balanced presentation of the role officers play in society and in their communities. Drawing on these findings, CRF developed the Cops & Kids conference model and the Youth and the Police 10-lesson curriculum.

The conference is built around a CRF activity called Police Patrol. This simulation activity puts students in the roles of citizens needing police assistance and as officers responding to their calls. Law enforcement officers act as resource people and coaches to the students playing the roles of police. This simple, yet powerful simulation provides a structured, safe environment for youth and police to begin to discuss issues including reasonable force, profiling, stereotypes, and the role of police in society.

A typical conference provides students and officers with two workshop sessions. In Session One they participate in Police Patrol, in Session Two, the officers facilitate a guided discussion that provides students an opportunity to express their views about issues of police/community relations and public safety in their own neighborhoods. The session ends with a brainstorm activity asking students and officers to explore activities and service-learning projects for youth to do to improve public safety in their own schools and communities.

Conference Goals

  • Establish positive, open lines of communication between the youth and law enforcement officers.
  • Provide students and officers with a forum to discuss their differences and begin to address negative perceptions and stereotypes.
  • Allow students and officers the opportunity to work together to identify attitudinal, behavioral, and action goals they can work toward to improve police-community relations.
  • Develop relationships between schools and their local police divisions with the goal of working together on future community-oriented projects.

Over 10,000 middle grades students have participated in Cops & Kids events in Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Rhode Island, Chicago, and Arizona. In Los Angeles, special sessions for parents have been added to the conference. In a separate breakout room parents participate in the Police Patrol simulation with officers, using the same methods as the students. Parents are then invited to join student sessions to observe the discussions between students and officers. This parent component has provided schools with a and the police department with an outreach to involve parents in their children’s education and to involve them as citizens in the community.

All participants surveyed before and after the conference to gauge attitudinal changes and knowledge gained. Past survey results indicate that the conference provides students, parents, and officers with a unique experience to begin to establish positive lines of communication and develop a deeper understanding of each other. Results also demonstrate students and parents gain a more sophisticated knowledge about the role of police in society, the scope and limits of police authority, and an appreciation of the challenges officers face.