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Redwood PD launches effort to better understand city’s youth

The five high school students took a seat on the couches as three cops and a school official intently studied their faces.

But instead of grilling the teens about a stolen iPhone, graffiti on the gym wall or some other criminal incident, the adults were on hand to bend their ears – and to hear their opinions about what constructive summer programs the kids would be interested in participating in should they become available in Redwood City.

Introducing SCAN, for Student Community Advisory Network – a program recently launched by the Redwood City Police Department that is believed to be the only one of its kind in California law enforcement – and perhaps other states.

“Coffee with Cops,” community town halls – these are common ways police departments reach out to take the pulse of their communities. Yet such events almost always are exclusively attended by adults.

Redwood City Police Chief JR Gamez, in his job now for about 1½ years,  says SCAN is the result of discussions that began a few months ago concerning how the Redwood PD could develop a deeper understanding of the needs of the city’s youth.

Now, once a week, the creator and main facilitator of SCAN, Redwood City Police Capt. John Spicer, and a fellow officer or two meet with up to six students from the city’s two high schools to hear what’s on their minds – and to collaborate on ways cops and youth can better work together.

The Redwood City P.D. has 95 sworn officers and a total staff of 125 that serve the city of about 78,000 located on the San Francisco Peninsula.

SCAN, Gamez says, is part of a larger effort to better serve all segments of the city, including groups that traditionally are underserved or underrepresented.

“While we don’t know where all of this exactly is going to end up, we already are confident that these meetings will result in enhancing our policing efforts,” Gamez says.

The SCAN program kicked off about a month ago and tentatively is scheduled to run until the end of the school year and resume in the fall. Up to six students --- all sophomores through seniors who attend either the 2,000-student Sequoia High or the alternative school Redwood High with 400 students --- are invited to the meetings.

“We go into each meeting with a free-for-all mentality,” Spicer says. “We have to have thick skin.”

The teens are asked, for example, if they’ve ever had contact with an officer, and how they honestly feel they were treated.

Like Gamez, Spicer came to Redwood City from the San Jose P.D., where he amassed more than 24 years of experience working with schools in that city.

Spicer says the students selected for SCAN meetings are representative of a broad demographic.

“We’re looking for kids of all types who we encounter on a regular basis,” he says.

Topics of discussion so far have ranged from bullying to safety concerns at school to drug dealers, mental health issues and a train platform many students must cross while walking to and from school.

“We’ve already gotten a number of takeaways from these SCAN meetings,” Spicer says.

And the web-savvy teens also have advised Gamez on how to beef up the Redwood City P.D.’s social media efforts, such as by launching second Facebook page that will include human interest stories as well as local crimes stories and hyperlinks to topics of teen interest such as the latest shoe fashions.

“We’re letting them have more of a voice,” the chief says. “We really think SCAN helps them feel more empowered, and we certainly see this evolving into a regular focus group for our department.”

F.W. Wells, principal of Redwood High, likes what he sees so far.

“Collaboration of this nature is a very important part and positive step for our students,” Wells says.

Photo Caption:

Members of the Redwood City P.D.'s Student Community Advisory Network (SCAN) attend a recent meeting. Sgt. John Spicer, who developed the innovative program, is shown in the middle (red tie). To his left is juvenile specialist Manuel Velarde, and the female officer is Diana Villegas. The topic for the meeting was what constructive summer programs the kids would be interested in participating in should they become available in Redwood City.

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