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Phoenix Police’s “Wake Up!” Program Proves Effective...

Jul 17, 2003

Phoenix Police?’s ?“Wake Up!?” Program Proves Effective Crime Prevention Tool
By Officer Sean A. Mattson, Phoenix Police Department
(Excerpted from The Police Chief, November 2000)

In late April 1994, just after 9:00 pm., shots rang out in a south Phoenix neighborhood. One factor separated this from the frequent drive-by shootings that the area is all too familiar with. The victim of this incident was a four-year-old girl by the mane of Ashley Boss, who was shot while sleeping in her bed. As expected, the community responded emotionally. Not only was this a horrific crime, but the perception at that time of the citizens who lived in south Phoenix was that the police department was not doing much to combat youth crime and violence. The citizens cried out for police to come up with a solution.

An Area in Need of Change
South Phoenix is an area in need of change. It contains over 20 known gangs and more than
1,300 identified gang members. This is an impoverished community where more than 90 percent of elementary school students (kindergarten through eight grade) receive free or reduced lunches.

In this area of low socioeconomic standing, where violence has become a way of life for many, few choices exist for the juveniles that become involved in crime. They join gangs to gain a sense of belonging. They grow
up with a ?“shoot or get shot?” philosophy. Crime exists all around them, and many of these children learn their behavior from the environment they are immersed in.

Birth of a New Approach
In response to the community?’s pleas for help, in 1996, the Phoenix Police Department met with the community, school, and business leaders to create a new approach in the war on youth crime and violence. They met with students from every part of the city to discuss possible solutions to their problems. Together they decided that two of the biggest problems that faced the area?’s youth were little money and a lack of things to do in their area. Another problem was the lack of positive role models to help children make wise choices in life. All parties agreed that if a program could be created to address these issues, the lives of south Phoenix?’s youth would begin to change for the better. There were programs for gifted students and at-risk students, but there was nothing for the largest population of students-those who were ?“middle-of-the-road?”.

?“Wake Up!?”for The Better
Wake Up!,?” more formally known as the Community Efforts to Abate Street Violence Program, was created in 1996 and targeted seventh and eighth-grade students throughout Phoenix. The program created a partnership between the schools, area businesses, the Phoenix Police Department, and community leaders. All students were allowed to join. However, to stay in the club, each student was required to abide by its rules. The rules focused on staying away from gangs and criminal activity while behaving well at school and home.

As Senator John McCain (E-AZ) explains, ?“Wake Up! makes youth aware that choices exist and that bad choices, often made in an instant, can drastically alter the rest of their lives.?”

The program place Wake Up! Clubs in the schools. Police officers teach the students to make better choices in their lives. By interacting directly with the officers, the students are improving their attitudes about the police and gaining a positive role model with their officer/facilitator.

Each club meets for about one hour each week at its school. Every meeting offers something new, with classroom activities, guest speakers, discussions, and planning future club events. Future events may include community service projects, field trips, fund raising events, and other opportunities form local businesses as they arise.

Every summer the children are given an opportunity to attend a summer camp as a reward for their continued good behavior during the school year. Many of these students would not have
opportunities like these without the club due to their families?’ low incomes.

Wake Up! clubs teach the students to resolve conflict in their lives without resorting to violence. They also teach positive life lessons such as communication, teamwork, self-confidence, leadership, and respect. The program develops students?’ social skills using positive, meaningful events such as community service projects. The clubs give the students a genuine feeling of belonging, both to the club and to their community; in a positive environment.

Approximately once per month, each club has a community service project. These projects make the students feel like they are part of their community and encourage them to make it better. The community service project is usually followed by some sort of reward event at a later date to reinforce the importance of their good choices.

For information in regards to the ?“Wake Up!?” Program, contact the City of Phoenix ?“Wake Up!?” coordinator at 602-495-5423. . . ☺

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