Putting a new spin on custody: new initiative in New Jersey places officers on bikes.
For more than a year, juvenile correctional officers who volunteered for the assignment have been crisscrossing the 100-acre NJTS campus on its paved roads and walkways--and for emergencies, crossing through the grass--on bicycles. The Campus Patrol has provided greater access to the various facilities that are spread across the campus, including a school (complete with a gym and a pool), an industrial building for vocational trades, a hospital, a chapel, separate visit and dining halls, a community center, two greenhouses, an administration and central command building, nine housing units, a power house, storerooms and other facilities. Needless to say, patrolling the facility is a formidable task.
The New Jersey State Reform School, as it was known, was established in 1865 through legislation following a plea from Gov. Joel Parker to establish a facility for youths who had broken the law. Parker requested a facility for juvenile males that would, "soften his pliant nature rather than render him more obdurate." Then, like now, the facility focused on rehabilitation rather than punishment. In October 1867, the first juveniles came to what would later become the New Jersey Training School. Nearly 140 years later, the New Jersey Juvenile Justice Commission (JJC) continues to take innovative steps that expand on that original concept of focusing on education, vocational training and the personal growth of each youth.
About the Agency
Created in 1995 to bring together services for delinquent youths, JJC is the single state agency responsible for providing juvenile rehabilitation and parole services. JJC cares for New Jersey's high-risk and increasingly vulnerable youths. The agency has a unique and pivotal opportunity to redirect the lives of the youths in its custody. JJC operates six secure care facilities and 22 residential community homes and day treatment facilities. In addition, the agency is responsible for parole and transitional services for youths when they return home from JJC custody.
The agency is responsible for more than 2,000 youths, comprising approximately 1,000 committed youths, 300 probationers and 800 juvenile parolees. JJC residents range in age from 12 to 23. The typical resident is 17 years old at the time of admission, and more than 90 percent are male.
NJTS is JJC's largest facility, housing approximately 300 youths. The sprawling campus is enclosed by a secure perimeter fence that is continuously maintained by a roving vehicle. JJC employs more than 200 law enforcement officers at NJTS, who not only maintain a secure facility, but help rehabilitate youths.
A positive and trusting relationship between the officers and the youths is essential. JJC is proud of its highly trained law enforcement staff, and the agency is committed to realizing the potential of the youths in its care, thereby helping them change the direction of their futures. JJC's dedicated and experienced juvenile correctional officers play a critical role in fulfilling this mission every day.
Education is the foundation of JJC's rehabilitation efforts. Students are engaged in academic and vocational training every day of the week, and often on Saturdays and Sundays. JJC strives to meet each student's individual educational needs by offering a vast array of learning options to them. Many are nontraditional in nature and satisfy the demands of New Jersey's Core Curriculum Content Standards and Alternative Education requirements. Vocational opportunities at NJTS include a sign shop where students design T-shirts, decals and signs; an auto body shop; a horticulture program; an optical lab where students makes eyeglasses for JJC and the Department of Corrections; and courses of study in woodworking, culinary arts and baking, and plumbing. In addition, students as well as staff are required to take classes in respect and dignity, and juveniles receive instruction in the cognitively based Phoenix curriculum to help prevent and reduce juvenile gang involvement.
The NJTS Bike Patrol
The idea for a bike patrol was conceived after the JJC executive director saw officers at the Miami airport making their rounds on bikes. The executive director's sons were captivated by the officers and their bikes, and the officers stopped to talk to the boys about their bikes and airport security. Seeing that officers on bikes in an airport can get the attention of teenage boys and entice them into a conversation, the executive director though that perhaps officers on bikes at NJTS could have a similar positive effect on juvenile residents.
With this idea in mind, the New Jersey state police were contacted and were more than happy to share their expertise in community policing. JJC asked for volunteers who were interested in the idea of patrolling the campus on bikes. The initial response was so overwhelming that many correctional officers could not be included in the first one-week training session taught by the state police. This training graduated 12 juvenile officers in spring 2002 and another class of equal size completed its training in August 2004.
Sgt. Tim Gandy, a NJTS Campus Patrol officer, praised the training and the camaraderie that developed between the two agencies. "The state police trainers treated the JJC officers as if we were one of their own. They were excited to share their experiences and help the JJC create a unique program of its own," Gandy said. In fact, the training was so successful that two JJC officers, Gandy and William Riley, now lend their expertise to the New Jersey state police and assist in the training program that prepares New Jersey state troopers for similar assignments.
In addition to training needs, JJC formed a committee to help plan other aspects of the new program. Careful thought went into the new uniforms to ensure that they reflected the dignity and professionalism of the position of correctional officer, while encouraging friendly interaction between the students and the officers. The NJTS sign shop, a vocational program for NJTS students, designed the new uniform for the officers assigned to Campus Patrol. The final design was an eye-catching bright yellow and blue shirt with comfortable blue pants or shorts. Matching gortex jackets are also available for cooler weather. Gandy reports that nothing prevents this dedicated squad of officers from making their rounds, not even inclement weather. Officers are also required to wear helmets and gloves for their own safety.
The officers, who are trained in high-speed breaking and other maneuvers, patrol the sprawling campus on 27-speed Cannondale mountain bikes. Paved pathways connect the various facilities on the campus; however, the bikes also allow the officers to veer off the paths and onto the grassy areas when the need arises. Campus Patrol officers often arrive at locations more quickly and efficiently than officers in vehicles. The flexibility of Campus Patrol places additional staff on-site more quickly in the event of an emergency and allows them to access areas that are difficult for vehicles to do so.
Campus Patrol officers generally ride in pairs at a casual pace. They, like all other juvenile officers, carry a radio that enables them to remain in constant contact with the NJTS command center. While responding to emergencies and patrolling the campus is important, visitors often notice the officers stopping to talk to residents. Sometimes the conversation is initiated by an officer inquiring where a resident is walking to; on other occasions, one will find the residents stopping the officers to ask questions about events taking place on campus. In either case, both officers and residents have praised the interaction that has resulted from the new initiative.
NJTS Superintendent Jack Cuttre has supervised Campus Patrol since its inception. He views it as a welcome addition and resource. Cuttre believes that every opportunity to build rapport with residents is essential to promoting positive changes in the lives of the young residents. While security is always a priority, he understands that in order to prepare juveniles to return to their homes, they must learn how to accept responsibility and interact in their communities. Campus Patrol is helping reach that goal.
Other benefits have also resulted. During planning stages of the initiative, it became apparent that a procedure had to be put in place to guide the repair of broken equipment. It only made sense to develop a new vocational program for JJC residents. Today, students at JJC's Life Skills and Leadership Academy repair and maintain not only the bikes that are used at NJTS, but also the state police's bikes. JJC's Office of Juvenile Parole and Transitional Services is helping residents who participate in this vocational program to locate jobs in this service industry.
All agree that the NJTS Campus Patrol is a success. "We haven't had a single complaint or negative comment from a youth or an officer since the inception of the Campus Patrol almost two years ago," emphasized Cuttre. "In fact, the officers are pleased that the Campus Patrol has allowed them to become more hands-on as they ride around campus, and morale has improved because of the increased opportunities for interaction."
The New Jersey JCC's Campus Patrol is a true example of adapting a program to meet a facility's needs. JJC looks forward to expanding this program and tracking its continued success.
Howard L. Beyer is executive director of the New Jersey Juvenile Justice Commission.