Teaching the GREAT program to police from Belize, Salvador
The Gang Resistance Education And Training (GREAT) Program is a violence prevention program. The program is being used to fight delinquency, youth violence, and gang involvement through school-based, law enforcement officer-instructed classroom courses. Over thirteen thousand Police officers from across the U.S. and Central American countries have been trained and certified. Belize is one of the countries using the GREAT program to reach at risk youths and since Tuesday police officers from Belize and El Salvador have been attending the “Central American GREAT Officer Training.” Andrea Polanco tells us more about what the officers are learning in the eight-day work shop.
Andrea Polanco, Reporting
Forty Police officers from El Salvador and Belize are participating in a one week Gang Resistance Education and Training (GREAT) certification programme. G.R.E.A.T seeks to go into primary schools to teach young people how to stay away from gangs, violence and drugs. These officers are now learning skills to reach out and communicate better with these at risk groups.
Thomas Jackson, Seminar Supervisor, G.R.E.A.T Programme
“The officers who are here are learning skills to take back to their community to teach kids things that they need to do. We found out in this training that a lot of our kids have issues with communication. So, we teach them communication skills; you know how to be an active listener. Sometimes we find that our kids don’t want to listen and when they don’t listen they miss a lot of the conversation. We talk a lot about the importance of verbal and non-verbal skill matching.”
A part of the training focuses on decision making. The trained officers will help the youth they work with to make informed decisions. The programme seeks to not only help young people to stay out of gangs, but to seek youth friendly alternatives.
“We want them to know that is important to stay away from gangs and how do they do that? It is to recognize that if someone is trying to get them involved in the gangs is that some of the things they can use is like saying no and blaming someone else; like my mom doesn’t want me to get involved in the gang or that is something that my priest or my pastor want me to get involved with. So, it is taking that off of them. What we are trying to do is to make sure that our kids can see a future. We want them to have a future. We want them to know that there are other things to do other than get involved in drugs, violence and gangs. But we have to give them something to look forward to. We want them to know that the decision they make today can have an impact on their life tomorrow. So, we want to teach them about making good decision called.”
Of the forty participants, fifteen are from El Salvador. The G.R.E.A.T program is one of the solutions to the country’s fight with organized crime where it is estimated that over sixty thousand young people belong to gangs. The fight among gang groups made El Salvador the most violent Latin American country in 2016. So, in recent years they have changed the approach to addressing gangs and violence.
Christopher Bertran, Bureau of Int’l Narcotics & Law Enforcement, U.S Embassy in El Salvador
“The gang problem in El Salvador isn’t containable as a first action; second action like arresting people isn’t effective anymore. So, we are looking for different actions, different approach that is going to help us fight it and that is prevention. This is exactly what G.R.E.A.T does for us because we reach the youth before they get involved in the gang activities. That is like the only way we have right now because this isn’t containable back in El Salvador.”
So, the GREAT programme is using a different method to get officers to connect with at risk youth – an approach they believe that is working.
“We want to put them in that situation as a fifth grader and this way we kind a desensitize officers. A lot of time as police officers we want to come in and take charge and take over. So, now we have to become vulnerable to our kids that even though we have on this uniform – I am a mom. I am a dad. And Ii have kids also. One thing about this training is that officers who come through this training they realize after they leave this training that they have skills themselves they didn’t know they had. They can go back and interact with their family differently.”
“It is great, actually. Why? Because usually the Police over there have like – how it works they are being aggressive because they are the law enforcing guys. But this course teaches them how to interact with the children; they form a bond between them and not imposing themselves over the ideas they have with the children and they serve as a guide for them.”
At the end of the programme, the officers will be certified if they successfully complete three phases of testing, including two written assessments and a facilitation of a lesson.
Andrea Polanco Reporting for News Five.