Growing up, Genara Lattimore thought police only came around when there was trouble—or to start trouble. In her neighborhood, they were known as the “jump-out boys.” As a teenger, she’d had her share of negative encounters with the police. So when an officer “jumped” out of his car to buy her an ice cream cone, all she could do was ask, “Why?”
“I was 16 at the time, and I did not like police. I grew up in Whitelock and when I saw police, they were the bad ones,” Lattimore said. “But he sat down and started talking to me about random stuff, asking me for my thoughts on how to make the playground in my neighborhood better. I thought, ‘Oh, my goodness. It’s really nice police out there that’s going to help in the community.”
That encounter inspired Lattimore to join the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) as a cadet.
Eleven years later, she continues her journey in law enforcement as the officer-in-charge of the BPD’s Explorers program for youth ages 14 to 21.
“I believe that the youth is where youstart” said Lattimore. “You can make a difference if you start with the youth.
For 30 years, Explorers has been facilitating positive encounters between youth and police within the community by providing a curriculum-based program that aims to cultivate youth into productive citizens through career development in law enforcement. The program recruits youth from across the city to interact with police officers in academic and recreational settings to learn about the history, structure, and culture of law enforcement.
“We are empowering the next generation of law enforcement,” Lyn Twyman, Explorers’ program administrator, said. “By connecting youth withpolice we are building a bridge for home grown officers to enter into the BPD that understand the dynamics of the community.”
Beyond creating pathways for youth to pursue a career with the police department, the program’s work is dedicated to strengthening the bonds of trust between young people and police that have deteriorated—since Officer Friendly left the school system, PAL centers were closed and more and more officers are caught on video misbehaving.
An article in the Journal of Juvenile Justice, “Evaluation of a Program Designed to Promote Positive Police and Youth Interactions,” points to research that shows that young people’s feelings of confidence in police and respect for them are related to positive interactions they’ve had. Research also suggests youth who felt disrespected when stopped by police, or who had a negative, non-arrest experience with police, reported having less trust and respect for police than did other youth.
Rico Thompson was one of the “other” youth. He started the Explorers program at 15. He is now 20. “I saw the bad and the good [police officers]. But I was taught to respect them all, and [that] if I encountered one to let my parents know,” said Thompson. Even though he isn’t pursuing a career in law enforcement, he is proud of the leader the Explorers has molded him into. “I am a role model for my little brother. I am teaching him the appropriate ways to communicate with police officers,” he said.
Among the program’s efforts to foster positive interactions between young people and police officers are monthly activities like Hotdogs With A Cop; Coffee With a Cop, ice skating and fundraisers to keep the program running.
Explorers is a community outreach program of the Community Collaboration Division of theBPD, and is solely operated with the support of private donors, corporate sponsorships and individual contributions from BPD officers. A $25,000 donation from TD Bank has allowed the division to expand the program to a high school in each of the city’s nine geographic districts. Reginald F. Lewis, Patterson Park, Booker T. Washington, Edmondson Westside, and National Academy Foundation are among the pilot schools offering the Explorers pre-criminal justice course as an elective. The course also teaches to the program’s six pillars for success— character development, violence prevention, diversity, leadership, community service and career education.
“Truthfully and honestly, this is overdue. We should’ve been doing
this years ago, but you’ve got to start somewhere. And this is a good start. The relationships will get stronger and stronger as we move forward along,” said Officer John Hailey, a player on the BPD basketball team that plays against youth at the program’s annual unity fundraiser.
Tension was thick between police officers and students that day. But all in fun and for a good cause— to raise money to keep the Explorers program going. “From my perspective, this is where we should be,” said Hailey, who’s worked in the Western District for 27 years.
“Most of the time they only interact with police when they see us in our official capacity. This is an opportunity for them to see us in a completely different light to where they’re like ‘oh, they [the police] really are people.’”