Sarasota County Sheriff's Office and Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota County Debut Rightful Policing Project

NEWS RELEASE #: 17-076

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Captain Charlie Thorpe, Major Paul Richard, Lieutenant Deb Kaspar, Captain John Walsh, BGCSC Youth of the Year Al-Muta Hawks, Lieutenant Dave Scott, Community Affairs Director Kaitlyn Perez, and Sheriff Tom Knight.

The Sarasota County Sheriff's Office and Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota County (BGCSC) are together debuting their 2016-2017 Rightful Policing Strategy project.

The sheriff's office was approached by the organization's Keystone Club in September 2016 for assistance developing the club's national project led by Boys & Girls Clubs of America. This year, Keystone Clubs in Boys & Girls Clubs across the nation were tasked with the project focus area, 'Dialogue Series with Law Enforcement'. The Keystone Club is a unique leadership development experience that provides teens, ages 14 to 18, with opportunities to enhance their academic success while preparing for their future careers and improving their communities through service projects. The club's president, Al-Muta Hawks, took the lead in developing the dialogue series and worked closely with sheriff's office members to create activities and strategies for enhancing communication between law enforcement and local youth.

In October 2016, Keystone members were invited to attend a one-day Rightful Policing Strategy (RPS) workshop hosted at Knight Trail Park in Nokomis, with dozens of sheriff's office deputies and civilian employees. The workshops put participants in real-life scenarios that law enforcement members experience every day to include traffic stops, domestic disturbances, and heroin overdoses. Participants were given only a few minutes between scenarios forcing them to make split-second decisions with limited time to decompress. Each participant was equipped with a mock gun and Taser, and guided through the scenarios with assistance from agency members. Several leaders and mentors from the faith-based and educational communities also attended the workshops to help students prepare and debrief afterwards.

"The Rightful Policing Strategy workshop was completely life-changing," said Hawks. "The training opened my eyes and I am so grateful for what law enforcement officers go through on a daily basis to protect and serve our community. This is something that everyone should get a chance to experience."

Also in the fall, for the first time in the agency's history, BGCSC members were invited to take part in the development of the sheriff's office 2017-2021 Strategic Plan. Teens participated in workshops and community meetings, adding input to plan development and providing commentary on community issues. Teens also hosted a youth-led dialogue at sheriff's office facilities on a Friday night in December. Students talked openly with deputies about decision-making, law enforcement tactics, the influence of social media and pop culture on their perception of law enforcement, and how to develop stronger bonds moving forward.

In the weeks leading up to the project's deadline, more than 20 sheriff's office employees surprised Club members with an impromptu game of kickball and trays of cookies. The sheriff's office also invited Club members to various events during the holidays and supported Hawks when he was recognized as BGCSC's Youth of the Year in February.

"We are so glad that Al-Muta had the courage to reach out and create this partnership with us," said Sheriff Tom Knight. "Keystone members are leaders among their peers and through the Boys & Girls Clubs, have such potential to make lasting impacts on our communities. What I have enjoyed most about this project is watching Al-Muta and his peers grow and evolve, ask tough questions and challenge the status quo of what it means to be a teenager in today's society. They are engaged, tenacious, and anxious to become change makers."

On March 2, the Keystone Club traveled to Chicago, Illinois, for the 50th Annual National Keystone Conference, and formally submitted their rightful policing project. Hosted by Boys & Girls Clubs of America, the conference united more than 2,500 teens from five countries across the globe. If the Keystone Club's project is selected as the national winner, Hawks will be notified in coming months.

"What started as an exciting challenge for our Keystone Club quickly grew into a strong, meaningful partnership because of the sheriff's office immense support of their project," said Bill Sadlo, BGCSC President/CEO. "This whole experience has both inspired and empowered our youth to continue to use their voice to support positive change and collaboration in our community."

The relationship between BGCSC, the sheriff's office and Hawks continues to evolve. Scheduled to appear on ABC 7's "Black Almanac" on March 26 at 7:30 a.m., Sheriff Knight and Hawks will talk to Dr. Ed James about the Keystone project, relationship development and connecting law enforcement and youth.

The Keystone Club's project can be viewed on the sheriff's office YouTube channel at YouTube.com/SarasotaSheriff.