OPELOUSAS — Opelousas Police Chief Martin McLendon and Mayor Julius Alsandor are tired of the crime among children in their community.
"If you look at our volumes of calls, and the number of shootings we have in terms of people just firing weapons, a lot of those weapons we're taking off the streets, are in the hands of juveniles," McLendon said.
McLendon says the best way to help those getting into trouble is not to arrest them, but to understand them.
"That's what I have been talking about since I decided to run as Chief of Police, that we would transform the community by not arresting every person we come into contact with," McLendon said.
With a grant of more than $100,000 from Louisiana Juvenile Services, McLendon has created a program called 'Cops that Care,' in which officers will spend time with youngsters. The mission of CTC is to strengthen the community by improving relationships with police, providing pro-social activities for youth with caring adults, and encouraging youth to abandon destructive lifestyles while using an evidence based mentoring model. Youth with multiple contacts with law enforcement will be matched with an officer and will participate in weekly activities designed to improve social functioning.
"We want to be able to go to church, Wal-Mart, doctor visits with them, so they can know these are people that really care for them. That's why it's called Cops that Care," McLendon explained.
"We're going to understand you better, but if you don't allow us to do that, if you don't allow us to come into your world, we're going to continue to see that disconnect," Alsandor said.
Children will be refereed through the judiciary system; efforts are already underway.