Valley mediation program helps reduce youth arrests
It’s the role of mediators to bring two sides of a dispute together.
But when Quabbin Mediation brought together its own mediators with police from Orange and Athol, the agency and two departments won a national award for helping bring the community together.
The recent award from MetLife Foundation, which comes with a $15,000 prize to continue the work of the two-year “Enhancing Community Policing” program, recognizes the agency’s efforts “to improve youth safety and to support families and communities.” Originally funded with a $533,000 federal Department of Justice grant, the 2½-year program contributed to a 20 percent reduction of violence and bullying in schools around the region, according to Quabbin Mediation Executive Director Sharon Tracy.
The program, which also included Greenfield Police and the Mediation and Training Collaborative in Greenfield, involved mediators and police sharing their experiences — including mediators accompanying police in their cruisers and police working with youth trainers in the “training active bystanders” sessions in the schools.
Since the program’s inception, there has been a nearly 54 percent decrease in youth arrested in the North Quabbin area, and juvenile court arraignments have dropped 60 percent.
The Orange-based program was selected from more than 550 applicants.
“Collaboration between community-based groups and police departments can reduce crime, stimulate housing and other development, and improve the quality of life in low-income neighborhoods,” said Dennis White, president and CEO of MetLife Foundation, which has a history of supporting neighborhood-based efforts to tackle crime and improve safety.
“Quabbin Mediation, Athol Police Department and Orange Police Department provide an exemplary model for groups nationwide facing similar challenges and opportunities.
Tracy said much of the training that took place under the federal grant, which was shared among the three police departments and the two mediation agencies, was informal and gave police and mediators an idea what the others’ work involved.
But two Greenfield police officers also received full training as mediators, and Orange and Athol police were trained as part of a youth violence prevention program to join other adult volunteers in going into the classroom with youth trainers to encourage students to stand up for other students who are being harassed.
“If you talk to police officers, they’ll tell you they’re always engaged in working to resolve different conflicts they’re called out on,” said Tracy.
“The bottom-line goal was to provide resources and training to help make the community a more peaceful place.” “What I appreciate the most about the Enhancing Community Policing partnership is the increased interaction between the young people in our community and the police department,” said Orange Police Chief Robert Haigh. “Through our partnership with Quabbin Mediation, a more accessible bridge has been built between the police and youth. The trust created has enhanced the ability to bring violence prevention awareness and programming to the community as a whole.”