Police have an eye on your child, and this is what they see: He’s mugging on Facebook, posing with guns and throwing gang signs. Your son’s pals, X, Y and Z, are known to sell weed, and an older brother of one of those kids has already done time.
This nugget of an idea fell out amid the many PowerPoints at this week’s Urban Crime Summit: Give parents a formal letter documenting the pathway to bigger troubles that their child is on.
It’s a cop’s heads-up, a letter to confront parents in denial. The summit concludes Thursday in St. Louis and is expected to produce recommendations.
Gang expert David Starbuck mentioned the letters during his presentation in Kansas City, noting the use of such forms by the Los Angeles Police Department.
Kansas City Police Chief Darryl Forté wrote it down.
“We could do that next week,” Forté said, noting the lack of expense involved and its potential effectiveness with older guardians, say grandparents who might be a bit naive or who are being duped by their grandkids.
Starbuck said it wouldn’t be necessary to ask all patrol officers to do the work. Rather, a group of officers with a passion for dealing with teenagers could take it on. A second form, with referrals to social service agencies that could help, would also be part of the visit.
Starbuck retired from the Kansas City Police Department after heading the gang unit. He is assistant chief in Grain Valley and president of the Missouri chapter of the Midwest Gang Investigators Association.
One of the biggest problems he sees is the adoration of gang culture, a fascination with violence that is seductive to a lot of teenagers. It’s a predisposition that also can head them toward trouble.
The police action could dovetail with a protocol for truants that is being developed within Kansas City Public Schools, said Luis Cordoba, executive director of student intervention programs for the district.
Realistically, both Cordoba and Starbuck said that for some at-risk youths the parents are the problem, either through their addictions or seeming unwillingness or inability to oversee their children. Such letters could wind up tossed out in those homes. But a document could also warn of a fact of the streets: When a kid joins a gang, the whole family has joined a gang.
At the very least, the approach sets a tone — that people are looking out for your child, even if you aren’t.