ST. PAUL - For three years, men have patrolled the streets of St. Paul to increase safety while also connecting with young adults.
They’ve done so without badges, handcuffs or weapons of any kind. And it’s made a difference, resulting in a 63 percent decrease in youth arrests while they’re on the clock, according to the St. Paul Police Department.
“Building the bridge with the police and with the kids,” said Tim Simmons, a community ambassador with the city’s community ambassador program.
Started in June 2014 by the St. Paul mayor’s office and police department, the program currently targets “hot spots” throughout the city several nights a week. This year, the city committed $150,000 to the private-public partnership program, but city officials hope the program will continue to grow – expanding the ambassador hours and boundaries.
“We said, we could take a heavy-handed approach, or we could take an open-handed approach and give kids options and tell them about programs they can go to,” said St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman.
Coleman added: “We know that it works. And we know that if kids are given options to choose something productive, they’re going to choose that.”
As ambassadors patrol the streets, they also remind young adults about programs at park and recreation centers, libraries and youth workforce centers. They even hand out bus tokens to encourage kids to leave downtown or other areas.
“We’ll give them a token, so they can get where they need to go,” Simmons said.
But the most effective intervention, the ambassadors themselves say, is simple conversation.
“We don’t need the guns and the badges, because we know these kids,” said Kassim Busuri, also a community ambassador.
“It’s just connecting with the youth. That’s the beauty of it,” Simmons said, adding, “I love connecting with the youth. I love connecting with our community.”