NYPD program offers last chance justice by monitoring teens
MONA ISKANDER: On this Wednesday evening in East Harlem, NYPD officers James Daco and Victor Ramos pay a visit to a young man from the neighborhood.
He's a 20 year old named Jordan Rouse. And he was arrested a few years ago on a robbery charge. But they're not here to arrest him today. They're here to make sure he stays out of trouble.
OFFICER: Applying for jobs? Alright, Any luck yet?
JORDAN ROUSE: Not, no luck not now…
OFFICER VICTOR RAMOS: This is what we do. We go visit. "Hey, what's going' on? Hey, what's up? Even though you haven't gotten in trouble in a while, you know, we want you to continue that route, go on the right path."
OFFICER JAMES DACO: Yeah, we're actually here trying' to prevent them from getting arrested instead of being' the person that's arresting them.
OFFICER RAMOS TO JORDAN ROUSE: Let me see, let me check it out? You got more certificates than I do…
MONA ISKANDER: This kind of proactive policing is at the heart of a little known program within the NYPD called The Juvenile Robbery Intervention Program or JRIP. Its aim is to steer every teenager whose been arrested for a robbery away from a life of crime. The focus is on two New York City neighborhoods. Officers make repeated visits to the teen's homes, getting to know their families and monitoring their whereabouts.
JOANNE JAFFE: In the police department, we usually look at where crime is happening. And that's where we deploy our personnel. And that was only working, you know, a bit here.
MONA ISKANDER: Joanne Jaffe is the housing bureau chief for NYPD – she oversees hundreds of public housing developments. Only about 5 percent of the city's residents live in public housing, but approximately 20 percent of violent crime takes place in them. In late 2006, she noticed a spike in robberies committed by teens in public housing units in the Brownsville area of Brooklyn.
JOANNE JAFFE: The majority of it, was youth on youth robberies, where young teenagers were stealing property of other young kids that lived in the area. And we knew we had to do something. And what I started to look at is where did the robbers that are committing the robberies live?
MONA ISKANDER: That's when she came up with JRIP.
JOANNE JAFFE: And the idea was now we were going to go to every juvenile, And we were going to give them a message. If they continued to engage in criminal conduct, that we were going to do everything in our power to make sure that they stay in jail. The second component to the program was really to get involved with them and their families and identify resources to assist the family as a whole.
MONA ISKANDER TO JAFFE: What you're talking about sounds a lot like social work. Is this really the role of the police officer, police unit?
JOANNE JAFFE: I think so much of what we do is social work. There's a true overlap. Here we're talking about young kids, young adults that have an opportunity, we have an opportunity to help them and their families change their lives.
MONA ISKANDER: The program began in 2007 and now tracks at total of 317 teenagers in Brownsville, Brooklyn and in East Harlem – both areas with high rates of robberies committed by teens.
MONA ISKANDER: Why is this– this program focused on robberies?
JOANNE JAFFE: A lot of kids aren't involved in– in homicides, you know? Kids are involved in robberies. They're stealing property. And some of them don't even realize that what they're doing is a serious, serious felony crime.
MONA ISKANDER: JordanRouse says that was the case for him. He was arrested in 2009 at the age of 16. charged with robbery by physical force. he stole someone's cell phone.
JORDAN ROUSE: Everything I did was for that moment, I didn't think about the past or future, it was just here and now.
MONA ISKANDER: Jordan lives alone with his mother. Growing up, he rarely saw his father. And his mom says keeping him on the right path wasn't easy.
GABRIELLA WILSON: I work nights, so I can't watch him when I'm not here. So– basically he was going' to school and not doing' anything.
MONA ISKANDER: In the nearly four years that the officers have been monitoring Jordan, they've offered him advice on how to land a job and encouraged him to enroll in vocational training classes.
OFFICER JAMES DACO: He didn't want to go, kept, you know, resisting. And after, you know, just constantly harassing him about it, basically, if you– if that's– if that's how you even want to say it, harassing, he finally decided to go, went and actually earned his diploma out of there.
GABRIELLA WILSON: They keep him on his toes and let him know, "You know what, Officer Daco be coming' around, you know, you got to you know, step up your game. You have to, you know, improve yourself."
MONA ISKANDER: For officers in this program, it's a job that requires time and resources to develop and maintain these relationships – everything from driving teens to doctor's appointments to connecting families with childcare options. But gaining the trust of families isn't always so easy…. Especially in neighborhoods where the controversial use of stop and frisk has created tensions.
OFFICER VICTOR RAMOS: It's not all welcome mats on the floor, you have to develop relationships with the parents. It may take weeks.. I had a JRIPer's mother slam the door in my face a few times.
MONA ISKANDER TO JAFFE: What if they say, "I don't want to be in this program. I don't want to have anything–"
JOANNE JAFFE: Great question.
MONA ISKANDER: "–to do with you"?
JOANNE JAFFE: Guess what, they don't have a choice. They're in a program where we're going to monitor and mentor them. Now they can not allow us to mentor them. But we in a police department, we could monitor them.
PATRICK KENNEDY: This is their group…
MONA ISKANDER: That means monitoring them any way they can…. Even posing as teenagers on social media websites.
PATRICK KENNEDY: You have kids out there that used to be in these crews…
MONA ISKANDER: Detective Patrick Kennedy has a fake Facebook profile that he uses to monitor the accounts of teens in the program every day.
PATRICK KENNEDY: If we see somebody stating' that there's a party on Saturday, we'll let the proper– precinct know about it and then they'll go and shut it down before it even happens.
MONA ISKANDER TO KENNEDY: How would they feel if they knew you were looking at their Facebook pages though?
PATRICK KENNEDY: It's out there that– we are monitoring– Facebook, social media. So they know. You see them saying, you know, that the feds or N.Y.P.D. are watching' us.
MONA ISKANDER: Some tactics like setting up a dummy Facebook page and trying to access– the social media websites of other kids in the community, I mean, is that crossing a line?
JOANNE JAFFE: I don't think it is. You know, the– we get information from kids. And we just do our homework.
MONA ISKANDER: But someone might look at that and say, "It's invasive. It's misrepresenting, who that person is." I mean, how do you respond to that?
JOANNE JAFFE: I– I would say that I don't think it is.
MONA ISKANDER: Since the program is so small, it has attracted relatively little attention and even less criticism. David Kennedy, an expert on crime reduction says these kinds of tactics are not surprising
DAVID KENNEDY: Look, Police watch the public. The police have always watched the public. And when police have reason to think that particular people are particularly active and dangerous. They're going to watch them more closely.
MONA ISKANDER: Kennedy is considered a renowned authority on criminal justice policies in the US. His philosophy, which has been widely implemented with great success, is to have regular dialogue among offenders, community members and law enforcement.
DAVID KENNEDY: These are neighborhoods that need more public safety. They need a different kind of criminal justice, one that works for them without locking everybody up. And they need to have reset relationships between the community and the cops.
MONA ISKANDER: The Juvenile Robbery Intervention Program, he says, is putting this idea in to practice.
DAVID KENNEDY: NYPD is– a no-nonsense police department. And the fact that they have invented this, institutionalized it, and are backing it is really– it's a breakthrough for policing and a testament to how seriously they are taking this way of thinking about things.
MONA ISKANDER: So is the program making a difference? Of the 317 teens that the NYPD is monitoring this year, only 30 were arrested from January through November – that's a recidivism rate of just more than 10 percent. The NYPD doesn't track numbers to make a citywide comparison but says the rate is an indicator of success. And it says some things can't be measured at all – like the ripple effect on friends and family of the teens in the program.
Police Commissioner Ray Kelly applauds the program but says adding more resources to it is not likely any time soon.
RAY KELLY: We have about 6,000 fewer police officers than we had– 12 years ago. So we're doing more with less. We'd like to do– more of– of JRIP. In the immediate future probably going to be difficult to expand it– in any significant way.
MONA ISKANDER TO JAFFE: You're investing heavily in these individuals. So when a young person becomes a repeat offender, is that investment squandered?
JOANNE JAFFE: No, I don't think so. Because for the– for the kids that continue to be involved in criminal conduct. We need to get them off the streets. We need to protect the public. And we also– our duty's to protect these other kids. And I think we as a society and we in the police department have to do everything we can to first help these kids change their lives.
MONA ISKANDER: At the end of each year, officers in East Harlem throw a holiday party to nurture new and old relationships with families in the program … tonight, officers surprise this grandmother with a birthday cake.
Jordan rouse and his mother area here… Jordan says that his goal is to apply to colleges next year and work towards becoming a corrections officer.
JORDAN ROUSE: I don't see things the way I used to. I see the bigger picture in life basically the typical stuff, get a job go to school. I wasn't really thinking like that at the time. I was just a moment type of guy.. If I want it, I take it. But not no more. Not no more.