Columbia, SC (WLTX) - Columbia Police want to have better relationships with teenagers with a program called Young Ambassadors for Justice.
"We notice that there is a disconnect between law enforcement and young people," says Deputy Chief Melron Kelly.
The police department is partnering up with high school students in order to bridge the gap in communication with officers.
"First meeting after we introduced ourselves we broke up into some groups and I asked them to describe police officers using some words," says Deputy Chief Kelly. "We heard some words like bad guys or people who profile normal citizens."
Deputy Chief Kelly admits he was concerned by their descriptions, but was relieved when they described their Student Resource Officers.
"They used great words like 'friend,' 'they're very cool with me,' 'I can talk with them' and I asked why that difference existed and they said 'We know them, we don't know you,'" says Deputy Chief Kelly. "This is our attempt to get to know them as people as well."
They also wanted the students to get a better understanding of what they do on a daily basis.
High school students like Jayla Powell got a chance to put themselves in the officers shoes when it comes to performing routine traffic stops.
"The scenarios that we're doing it actually helped change my mindset on how police officers actually are," says Powell. "They're job isn't easy and then you'll get people that are ruthless, not cooperative and just rude. So it makes them not be as nice as they should be."
Not only does the program get students more comfortable with officers, but it also teaches them their rights.
"It's also letting law enforcement know that not every kid you see is a trouble maker," explains Deputy Chief Kelly.
The youth ambassador group meets with the police department once every two months. Other topics they hope to discuss are personal safety, bullying, and relational issues.