Written for the upcoming book: On the Road Together: Safe Teen Driving Circles.
At SCVRJP as part of a Driver Improvement Class, which is a diversion course for traffice violation, a Safe Teen Driving Circle is held and a River Falls Police Officer is part of the Circle process. The only difference between this class and a standard Safe Teen Driving Circle is some time at the beginning discussing the deferred prosecution agreement and the participation of a police officer. At first I was a little afraid and concerned that the officers would leave thinking I was really weird and that ‘restorative justice’ was fluff. Thankfully, like most of my fears, that did not happen.
Instead the Officers have provided positive feedback about participating. It appears they like interacting with the young people, in a different light. Instead of the “do you know why I stopped you?” introduction. The youth feel safe in Circle and describe the “who, what, when and where” of the incident that led them to class. The Circle provides a place conducive to storytelling. Kids mention things like “My Mom, kept warning me not to speed”. The Officer also experiences the story told as a member of the Circle. The storytellers make a lasting impression. The Officer observes young people listening respectfully, intently and often times it is out of character for the age group. The other thing that often strikes me is that before the Circle starts there is horse play, teasing, the normal adolescent group behavior. Then during and after, the young people are adult like in respect attention and feedback.
If it sounds too good to be true, it’s because it is. I LOVE Circle process for the gift it gives us to role model for others, especially for teens. This really cool bilateral relationship between the speaker/storyteller and the youth is a miracle to observe. Storyteller needs listener, listener changed by storyteller. This is the clencher for the police officer, I don’t think they get to witness “instant” transformation that often. What happens in Circle is really, really real. I didn’t expect the uniform to become ‘invisible’ in a positive way. The improved relationships between teens and officers is very positive for our community and the young people in general.
Thank goodness I didn’t respond to my fears and keep the officer out of the Circle. Actually I couldn’t have done that, I live by the inclusive value. When implementing your Safe Teen Driving Program, engage community leaders in participating. It will pay off in the end.