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updated: 9/1/2017 1:22 PM

Elgin teens welcome interaction with police

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  • Kevin Vasquez, 13, of Elgin talks with Sgt. Eric Echevarria during the Elgin Police Department's first "Teen Summit" Thursday at the Centre of Elgin. Vasquez says he want to be a police officer.

      Kevin Vasquez, 13, of Elgin talks with Sgt. Eric Echevarria during the Elgin Police Department's first "Teen Summit" Thursday at the Centre of Elgin. Vasquez says he want to be a police officer.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

  • Elgin Police Sgt. Kevin Senne visits with a group of teens Thursday at the "Teen Summit" at the Centre of Elgin.

      Elgin Police Sgt. Kevin Senne visits with a group of teens Thursday at the "Teen Summit" at the Centre of Elgin.
    John Starks | Staff Photographer

 
 

Elgin teens at the first police event focusing on their age group said they felt they had been left out of the conversation, and welcomed more interaction with officers.

About 20 youths 13 to 19 attended the "Students Together Engaging Police" meeting Thursday evening, when they were asked to give feedback about what police are doing and how to improve things.

The discussion at the Centre of Elgin included questions such as, "What is the most important thing you would want a new police officer to know?"

Police Chief Jeff Swoboda exhorted the teens to be "open and honest."

"We recognize we are not perfect. We make mistakes all the time," Swoboda said. "But we try to get better, and the only way we can do that is by listening to all of you."

Some of the teens said they are exposed to negative portrayals of cops on the news and social media, but rarely hear about the good stuff.

Lindsay Warren, 14, a student at Elgin Academy, suggested having school resource officers at private, not just public, schools. Other teens said police should take an active role in homecoming events.

Officers shouldn't be too harsh with teens, who can get emotional when they get stopped while driving, said Abbey Schneff, 17, a student at Larkin High School.

Demari Bey, 16, said it can be intimidating to deal with officers who are armed and in full uniform. But events like Thursday's are a great way to break the ice, with the help of pizza and chicken wings for dinner, he said. "If there is food, a teenager is going to come," he said.

The department's community outreach efforts include "coffee with a cop" meetings and "community conversations" in Spanish. There is an Explorer post for youths who want more hands-on involvement, and a summer Kids United program attended mostly by younger kids.

"I would say it was almost shocking to hear that the kids were saying stuff like, 'We just really like being heard, because we never get to have interaction with police,' " Cmdr. Al Young said. "It's true, most of our interaction is with the younger kids and the adults. I understand they felt they were being left out."

The department plans to remedy that by creating a teen youth committee which can offer suggestions and feedback on an ongoing basis, Swoboda said.

Rev. Bob Whitt, who works in community outreach for the department, said Thursday was just the beginning of the conversation with teens.

"We want to continue to try to have these types of conversations with you, because we do need to hear from you," he said.

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