Leadership program student creates national program
Maine's First Lady Ann LePage presented Sergeant Jonathan Shapiro with an award that was related to his graduate project in the Masters in Leadership Studies program at the University of Southern Maine's Lewiston Auburn College. Maine Governor's Children's Cabinet and the initiative, Keeping Maine's Children Connected, recognized Shapiro for his efforts in developing the “An Improved Police Response to Juveniles in Crisis” program.
Shapiro, a Maine State Police officer for 23 years, works as supervisor of Troop A which is the southern-most troop in the Maine State Police. The Masters in Leadership Studies program at USM LAC was attractive to Shapiro because of its flexibility. “The MLS program doesn't hold you to a specific discipline. You can learn the general philosophy of leadership within the discipline that is relevant to your own work,” said Shapiro. Additionally, the program allows students to study within their own personal interests versus related to work. “My interests go beyond law enforcement and so I was pleased that I could study other topics like theology and political science, and do that under the leadership framework.”
As a member of Maine Governor's Children's Cabinet for District 1, which deals predominantly with juvenile issues, Shapiro became knowledgeable about what programs and agencies were doing to promote the well-being of children and youth in Maine. “A large part of my job is reviewing the work that my troopers do and I look for trends. I noticed that over the last several years there was a significant increase in troopers responding to calls that are colloquially known as 'juveniles out of control.' I took a look at how we were responding to those calls, from whether or not we should even be responding to these types of calls to, if we do respond, what are we actually doing when we arrive at the scene,” said Shapiro.
Shapiro convened a group to look at the problem, and the group decided that there were several issues going on. One of those issues was how the police actually viewed these calls and the lack of education on the part of the police in regard to what these calls really were about. Another issue was that once the call was identified as a juvenile in crisis, the question arose as to what needed to be done at that point, whether the activity was a mental health issue or criminal or both, and how to interface with multiple agencies. Shapiro said the types of agencies that may come into play in these situations include “mental health agencies, the Department of Health and Human Services, schools, parents, hospitals, district attorney's offices, and Juvenile Corrections.”
The group developed a lesson plan that was accepted by the Maine Police Academy and is now mandatory training for all police in the state of Maine. “I've personally trained about 500 police officers in traditional lecture style. Other Maine officers in the state will be trained online,” said Shapiro. “We've put together a protocol. After officers are educated they can identify by definition what a juvenile in crisis is, what information needs to be captured in order for the relevant stakeholders to act sufficiently, and then where that information can be sent, being cognizant of privacy laws. There's a mechanism in place to hold the agencies that receive this information accountable for acting with the juvenile.”
Before this program was put in place, the stakeholders were not always aware of the recidivistic nature of some of the juveniles in crisis calls to which the police had responded. “With this program, we were able to take the interface with the stakeholders to another level which allowed services to be put in place effectively. Now, we are able, in most cases, to get the child and family the help that they need by creating a secure mental health environment for the parents and child without having to take the child out of the community,” said Shapiro.
Shapiro summed up the program, “The program is the education of police officers to know what they're looking at when responding to a call. An educated police force is going to be able to handle the juveniles in crisis calls more effectively with this knowledge. The second part of the program is the Police Juvenile Report form which is a three- or four-page protocol in which the officer captures all the information that is not necessarily police-required information, but is information that all the other agencies need to act definitively to help the child.”
Until Shapiro developed this program, there was no check on which agencies were working with a family. Mental health agencies could be providing the family with services, the police could still be called multiple times, and the mental health agencies may or may not know that their services were not working properly. Shapiro said, “There needs to be a mechanism for communication and a commonality of language as well which is why the police Juvenile Report Form is so important. It was developed in collaboration with these other agencies in accordance to what information they need. That enables police officers to talk with mental health providers with a commonality of language. That made a big difference.”
Many of the skills that enabled Shapiro to develop this program were gained through USM LAC's Masters in Leadership Studies program, according to Shapiro. “I was able to utilize the leadership theories and skills that I learned at USM LAC, particularly the creative processes that are so important when dealing with multiple agencies. The courses were very relevant to my work and helped me reach my goal of developing this program to help police respond more effectively to juveniles in crisis.”