TEEN LINE FOUNDATIONS Pt 6 – Community Policing

As we prepare for our 35th Anniversary, Dr. Leader will share her memories of the early days of TEEN LINE in a series we like to call…

By Elaine Leader, Ph.D., CGP, BCD, FAGPA

Chapter Six: Community Policing

Teen Line's Teen Suicide Prevention Team members Scott Zorn, Susan Tierney and Traci Lehman conduct training on teen suicide prevention for Los Angeles police officers at the police academy in 1998.
Teen Line’s Teen Suicide Prevention Team members Scott Zorn, Susan Tierney and Traci Lehman conduct training on teen suicide prevention for Los Angeles police officers at the police academy in 1998.

“Have you seen a crazy teenager around here?”  This comment from a police officer to a teen crying in a phone booth was heard on our hotline during a suicide call from a teen who had contacted us sobbing uncontrollably as she reiterated her wish to die.  We had alerted law enforcement for help for this young teen who was so desperately depressed.  Most times when we had needed this kind of intervention, law enforcement was extremely responsive.  This was an exception that brought to mind that perhaps police officers were not getting specific training in dealing with suicidal youth.

I had already made some contacts at LAPD so was able to get the name of the person responsible for training.  Even though it took some time I was able to arrange to meet with Captain Brennan at the Police Academy. I brought with me our promo video and materials about TEEN LINE. He had invited a Detective to meet with us who was in charge of a program called the Juvenile Procedures School. I explained what we could offer with regard to training and that we were willing to go and to work closely with whomever they designated.

Captain Brennan was thrilled. He immediately sent a memo to all his Division Chiefs recommending they contact TEEN LINE for assistance in educating their officers on how to intercede with suicidal teens and their families. The Detective at the meeting asked if we could do training for the Juvenile Procedures School the following week, mentioning that they really welcomed “war stories”!  I got what he meant. In order for us to gain their attention and understanding we needed to have panelists willing to tell their personal stories.

From then on we have had an amazing collaboration with law enforcement! Since 1996 we have been instructors with the LAPD Juvenile Procedures School which is their four-day mandatory continuing education for juvenile officers.  This takes place between 6 and 8 times a year.  We are one of only two instructors that are not part of their law enforcement cadre.  Our sessions include handouts, video and a presentation from a parent that has lost a child to suicide and a young person that had been depressed but who is recovering. Included in our handouts is an evaluation form that we ask officers to complete.  This gave me the opportunity to collate their responses and to publish a paper on Community Policy and Teen Suicide Prevention.

In addition to becoming Instructors at the Juvenile Procedures School we also became involved in training DARE officers at their annual retreats some of which meant travelling outside of Los Angeles. As we became more involved with LAPD we were asked to do presentations to some of their Explorer programs, their Mental Evaluation Units and even their local stations’ role calls. Most exciting was training the Hostage Negotiators and the LAPD SWAT Team. The latter offered a reciprocal training for our teens. Most enlightening was learning how much we have in common since we both recognize the importance and need to utilize active listening skills in our programs! As time evolved we also expanded our efforts to other law enforcement agencies.  These have included the El Segundo PD, the Santa Monica PD and the LAUSD PD.

What I personally have learned from these experiences is tremendous. Most of us develop an attitude about law enforcement based on media portrayals and our political leanings and I was no exception. As I began to understand the law enforcement mind sets, their dilemmas and their humanity I realized how biased I and most people are about law enforcement actions.  Learning that the police are taught that every action resulting in harm or death has to be examined as a possible crime scene accounts for many misunderstandings.  What I found positive was their willingness to accept suggestions from us as to how to address suicidal teens and to show compassion to families when a suicide has occurred without compromising the scene.

Our involvement with LAPD has been recognized by succeeding Police Chiefs including Willie Williams, Chief Bratton and now Charlie Beck.  I personally am also indebted to the parents who so unselfishly have helped us with this important educational effort: Dale Rose, Diane Keane, Ron Silverman, Ellie and Peter Mezza, Karen Buehler, Laura DeJong, Susan Goran Sobel and Bob Burt.   They have been amazing. Their willingness to help with our Teen Suicide Prevention efforts has made an incredible contribution to our ability to educate on this extremely important issue.  We thank them all for their participation.  The youth that have participated by telling their personal struggles with depression and suicidal thoughts or actions have also been exceptional in their contribution to this outreach.  Big hugs to all of them.

On a final note I must mention how the involvement of one of our very first teen volunteers has made a monumental contribution to law enforcement. Stephanie Samuels who graduated TEEN LINE in the 1980s went on to utilize her Masters degree education and TEEN LINE peer counseling skills to develop a program in New Jersey called Copline. This is a peer helping program where retired police officers have been trained (like our teen listeners!) to staff a hotline for law enforcement officers to access counseling help.  Well done Stephanie!

As you can tell from the above, TEEN LINE has evolved into a program that is more than a hotline and involves current and future community leaders.

Read the next chapter: Pt 7 – See how they run…

Miss an earlier Foundations Blog? Catch up here:

Pt 1 – Birth of a hotline

Pt 2 – Training begins

Pt 3 – Early Challenges

Pt 4 – Resourcing RAs

Pt 5 – Blowing our horn

Pt 6 – Community Policing


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