Local Boys And Girls Club Discuss Police Interactions

Lieutenant Greg Wozniak with the Jamestown Police Department talks to teen members of the Winifred Crawford Dibert Boys and Girls Club of Jamestown, who held a youth-led dialogue Wednesday on improving relations with local law enforcement. P-J photo by A.J. Rao

Cops can get a bad rap in the maelstrom of teen culture.

From music, movies and video games — not to mention, a flurry of videos showing police encounters gone awry — teens can get a skewed and often dangerous perception of how law enforcement truly operate.

On Wednesday, the Winifred Crawford Dibert Boys and Girls Club of Jamestown set out to address these perceptions, hosting a youth-led dialogue between its teen members, parents and local police officers at its 62 Allen St. home.

Chief Harry Snellings and Lieutenant Greg Wozniak, both of the Jamestown Police Department, as well as Jordan Woleen, a Chautauqua County probation officer, joined a panel of teens and parents, and helped answer questions posed by a mostly teenage audience about police interactions, use of force and common misconceptions.

“Often times, a person’s perception of police officers is based on a negative interaction with an officer in the past or public perceptions with what’s going on nationwide,” Snellings said. “You can’t paint every officer with a broad brush. And that’s the same for us, we can’t treat every citizen the same way … it’s a two-way street.”

Wozniak emphasized how police officers “were once teens before,” and understands full well the common misperceptions of law enforcement.

“We’re not just here when (something bad happens) and to put you in jail … we’re here to help you guys,” he said. “We’re people too, and you can come up and talk to us. We’re easily approachable.”

Audience members broke into small groups to discuss ways to improve relations with police, indicating how perceptions are often passed down at an early age or nurtured by external forces like social media giving false messages. Stifling all this, they said, requires youth to see police more often and in less intimidating environments, preferably joining them in an activity they enjoy like sporting events.

Luis Castro, a 20-year-old student from Jamestown Business College and moderator of the event, said this was hopefully just the beginning of a longer effort to build relations between police and local teens.

“They’re police officers and we’re teens, but we’re all part of one community,” he said. “Not every cop in the community is bad or out to get you, and we have to understand they’re here to protect and guide us and move this community forward. This (discussion) is a great way to start understanding that.”