Youth in two Johnson City Housing Development complexes are getting up-close encounters with city police officers — in a positive way — through a grant program that provides a mentoring component.
It’s part of the Targeted Community Crime Prevention project, a $800,000 grant awarded to the Johnson City Police Department last year. Project Director Becky Haas spent a year developing partnerships with community organizations to implement the four-prong plan.
Officer Michael Whitaker, part of the community policing team, heads up mentoring and is assigned to a targeted area of the city when he is on patrol.
“When I went in to interview for the community police position, the chief and major told me about the TCCRP. I looked at it as a challenge to work that area,” Whitaker said. “That particular area of the city has a high crime rate. There’s a lot of drug activity and prostitution, a lot of quality-of- life issues. The grant is not just on crime, it’s an overall improvement of the neighborhood and area,” he said.
One of Whitaker’s duties is to run the PATROL program. It stands for Police and Teens Reach Opportunities for Life.
“It’s an at-risk youth program for ... ages 9 to 16 and we’re partnering with Johnson City Housing. We’re focusing on the Carver and Dunbar communities,” Haas said.
“Officer Whitaker coordinates our monthly event. Each third Thursday of the month, we have some kind of event for the kids. We’ve had a pool party, a cookout (and) taken them to the fair. Now that school has started, we’ll have a program to talk about grades” and other activities, she said.
Also part of PATROL is a mentoring aspect where officers provide a support system for the kids.
“The chief wanted to get that program back up and running,” Whitaker said. “At each meeting, we’ll select a group of winners based on grades or the games we play and we’ll do different activities” as a reward.
Whitaker said it didn’t take long to get police officers to sign on for the program, which is done in off-duty hours with no pay.
“It’s all volunteer,” he said. “We’re lucky at Johnson City. We have a good group of officers. Basically I put out an email about the program, that I needed help with it. In a matter of a couple of hours, I had 20 officers who volunteered. They’re doing it all on their own time.”
Whitaker said he enjoys being a role model for the kids.
“I think I was pretty fortunate growing up. My mom and ad were always there for me. If I needed support, they were always there for me. A lot of kids aren’t that lucky. If I can step in and build a trust and build a rapport with them, it makes it worthwhile,” he said.
“As far as the crime goes, it has gone on so long in that area and lots of time it’s repeat offenders. I think people have kind of accepted it. ... I want to get it out to get these neighborhood-watch programs going. This is their neighborhood and they don’t have to tolerate crime in the area.”