It is officially summertime, and school is out. The children of Cambridge now have lots of free time, and many have nothing to do. This situation is one that concerns Police Chief Justin Todd every year.
“I believe idle time and idle minds, they don’t go together,” he said.
This unfortunate combination leads to mischief, even criminal activity: property crimes like vandalism, rocks thrown through windows, and thefts from and of vehicles. These actions can often be traced back to the groups kids are consorting with.
“There are gangs in Cambridge,” said Todd. “There’s gang activity that happens on the street when the children are hanging out on the street at night. They’re influenced by those gang members. That’s definitely an issue and a problem, especially with the amount of guns we’re taking off the streets now.”
It’s not a big pool of children causing this trouble. Todd estimates that the police have regular issues with 50 youths or fewer. But the department still needs an ample number of personnel to curb these incidences.
Last August, Cambridge PD had a total of 31 officers. Three recruits recently graduated from the Eastern Shore Criminal Justice Academy, and they will now be placed on the road for field training. Additionally, the department just took on another certified officer, and five new hires will be entering the academy. So, Todd expects to have 40 officers on staff by the end of the year.
But these officers have to do more than just chase criminals and write tickets.
“To be a community oriented policing agency, you have to be willing to go out in the community and get to know the community you serve,” said Todd. “You cannot effectively communicate with everyone if you don’t do that, if you just police every traffic stop.”
It’s not all up to the police department, however. There are things the kids can do to keep themselves safe and out of trouble during the summer. Among these are knowing the environment they’re in and who they’re socializing with, which can influence their actions.
“If there’s a decision that you have to make and you know what is right and wrong, you have to do the right thing because it can affect you for the rest of your life,” warned Todd.
An important way for children to stay out of danger is to get involved in positive activities, such as those at the Boys and Girls Clubs and New Beginnings.
Todd admitted that it can be too easy to stand around all day and not interact by taking the leap into a camp or program. “But once you do it and you build that confidence, you’re building a lot more. You’re building character. You’re getting to know people in the community. You’re getting to meet new friends and not be persuaded by negative influences that are happening out on the streets.”
However, it appears the word isn’t out to all of Cambridge’s youth, and the chief thinks it may be necessary to encourage the kids in person. That’s where community oriented policing comes in, because the department wants to help make sure, through meet-and-greets and preregistration drives, that everyone gets involved in some activity.
At the same time, there are things parents can do to keep their children safe, as well. They should ensure they know the kids’ whereabouts, what they’re doing, and whom they’re doing it with. Also, social media activity should be monitored, because it can greatly affect impressionable children. Most of all, parents should communicate with their kids. As a father of teenagers, Chief Todd knows that can be difficult, but it’s the best way to help young people understand the dangers outside the home.
The parents shouldn’t be alone in this, though. A collaboration with the police department, the schools, and the city government is vital for keeping children safe and reducing the level of crime in the community.
“I think sometimes it feels like it’s a long, long race,” said Todd, “but we have to remember that the steps forward are better than steps back.”