POUGHKEEPSIE – The goal is improved police relations.
Before being chosen as part of a pilot program to help improve the relationship between police and young people, Poughkeepsie High School junior Tahleeya Raphael might never have approached a police officer.
“It was fear of the police for me and I didn’t want to be afraid. I wanted to understand their culture,” Raphael said.
In October 2022, she participated in the weeklong Youth and Police Initiative in Dutchess County. Then, she was chosen to participate in a pilot the 17-year-old program launched called the National Youth Council. The program brought six students who participated in the YPI program over the last two years together to develop recommendations for police on a national level to improve relations with young people.
On Tuesday, Raphael and the other five students graduated from the program.
Students meet virtually, each week for about two hours from October through Tuesday to discuss their ideas, said Julie Barrot De Brito, director of operations for YPI.
Students were chosen based on their interest level and participation in the initial program.
“Tahleeya was very assertive and had creative ideas in criminal justice and said she had just taken a criminal justice class,” Barrot De Brito said.
The six will meet in person in Boston next month to record their recommendations. Plans to get the council’s recommendations into the hands of law enforcement nationwide are in the works.
When asked what she learned from her time with YPI and the National Youth Council, Raphael said she learned that police officers were human and that there were just a few bad apples who caused problems.
Some of the things the council discussed were having police officers talk more about the trauma they experience, having officers get more involved in the community by being open and friendly.
“We need to educate them to be unbiased,” Raphael said.
She also said the public needs to revisit its perception of police.
“The police aren’t your enemies. The future will be brighter if we come together as people.
You are not your profession, everyone is human,” she said.
Raphael said her plans after high school include going to college where she would like to pursue social work and art.
Dutchess County invested in the YPI program as a way to de-escalate tensions between school and the community.
“We are proud of the goals Tahleeya accomplished while serving on YPI’s National Youth Council. Her passion and dedication for improving relationships between youth and law enforcement officers is inspiring,” Karmen Smallwood, Dutchess County’s assistant commissioner for youth services, said.