What Do Police Know About Teenagers? Not Enough.

The results of Tippecanoe’s efforts have been dramatic. In 2010, 334 teenagers in the county were admitted to a secure detention facility, according to Ms. Humphrey. By 2019, that number had fallen by 71 percent, to 98. (The number fell even more in 2020, but Covid-19 lockdowns likely played a role.

Unnecessarily provocative encounters between police and youth are common in the United States, said Lisa Thurau, the founder and executive director of the nonprofit Strategies for Youth in Cambridge, Mass., which created the training program. These encounters can result in arrests, which disproportionately affect young people of color nationwide. A report in 2014 by the Sentencing Project, an advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., concluded that Black youth are twice as likely as white youth to be arrested.

According to the Department of Justice, tens of thousands of teenagers are arrested each year for the vague crime of disorderly conduct. And 42 percent of them are Black.

Strategies for Youth has conducted training sessions in 21 states, including for police departments in Albany and Newburgh, N.Y. Some jurisdictions have seen results as impactful as Tippecanoe’s: Juvenile arrests in Charlottesville, Va., dropped 59 percent. In Cambridge, Mass., arrests for minor offenses plunged 70 percent, according to Ms. Thurau.

Still, many police departments that have contacted Strategies for Youth have balked at the price: $21,500 for a two-day training session and nearly $35,000 for a four-day train-the-trainer program so police departments can do their own training. The cost is especially challenging at a time when cities are strapped for funds. But the alternative, putting kids in detention who don’t need to be there, is costly, too. It is about $140 a day in Tippecanoe, Ms. Humphrey said.

Even more important, unnecessary detentions have serious consequences, Ms. Thurau said. Kids in detention miss school, which can impede their ability to graduate. Having a record “can affect a kid’s ability to get a job or go to college,” she said. Being taken from a home may cause trauma to the teenager and the teenager’s family. And the financial costs of court fees and lawyers may be hard for a family to bear.

Tippecanoe County also offers “Parenting the Teen Brain” for parents, so they can better understand their child’s actions and avoid unnecessary calls to the police.

What Do Police Know About Teenagers? Not Enough.