VBPD police chief slams kids at Kids Law Academy

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VIRGINIA BEACH — The Virginia Beach police chief affixed little blue ribbons to the collars of half a dozen children on Saturday — the culmination of nearly a year of forging relationships between kids and cops .

Chief Paul Neudigate presented six Kids Law Academy students with a certificate of completion, a blue pin in support of law enforcement and a firm handshake during his first pinning ceremony at Zion Hear the Sound Ministries. The youngsters, aged between 10 and 17, have spent the past 10 months training at the academy.

The Hampton Roads-based nonprofit introduces kids of color to law enforcement careers and aims to build relationships with the police. The academy was launched in 2020 amid nationwide racial justice protests against police brutality.

“Where we struggle as a profession and where we struggle as an organization is really reaching out and building relationships where we need it – and that’s with our young people,” Neudigate said in a statement. addressed to the students of the academy.

The group met with Virginia Beach Police Department Officer Tyshon McNeil once a month from February through November for training sessions, participating in interactive learning experiences – including forensic science, security of guns, policies that impact communities of color and broadcasting.

McNeil was happy to work with young people because it “fills a gap that I wish I had filled when I was a kid.”

“Police is not just about controlling traffic and making arrests. These kids have seen every aspect of it — fingerprinting, finding evidence, gun safety and show trials,” McNeil said. “I look forward to starting over in the spring so we can close the gap and work out what needs fixing, starting with the community of Virginia Beach.”

Myliah Pugh, 11, said she now felt more comfortable and safe around the police.

“With this program, I learned the importance of law enforcement and I learned that not all police officers are against you,” Myliah said.

Veronica McMillian, the director of the academy, said this new perspective means the academy has been a success.

“We wanted to make sure these kids had a positive experience with police officers who looked like them and with those who didn’t look like them,” McMillian said.

McMillian added that the support of McNeil, who is black, and the leadership of the Virginia Beach police are essential in addressing misconceptions young people may have about law enforcement.

“In our black and brown communities, we always say we want to see more police officers who look like us, but what I’ve found working with others is that we – black and brown people – don’t let’s not intervene. We don’t want to do this job. I wanted those kids to know that and see that you can be a police officer like Officer McNeil,” McMillian said.

The academy will accommodate 10-15 children in February when it resets after the holidays. The seven graduates, one of whom was not present at the pinning, will continue to be part of the Kids Law Academy as ambassadors, offering guidance to new participants.

Kids Law Academy graduates are being recognized on Saturday for their work over the past 10 months.

McMillian, who has a background in counselling, hopes to expand the 2023 program to include dealing with trauma children may experience. She is working toward certification in Trauma-Informed Counseling and plans to have a therapist or counselor talk to children about the importance of dealing well with negative emotions.

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There is no cost to participate in the program, made possible by a grant from the Tidewater Children’s Foundation. For more information, including how to attend Kids Law Academy 2023, contact McMillian at [email protected] or visit the Kids Law Academy website.

Neudigate said Virginia Beach police not only plan to continue working with the Kids Law Academy, but hope to expand the reach of the program.

“You can see the enthusiasm and the positive momentum here today with just six people. Imagine if it was 15, 20 or 50. Imagine the impact we could have by helping to better understand policing and to remove some of the stigma around policing,” Neudigate said.

At the pinning ceremony, Tayten Smith. 12, shared his favorite parts of the program, which included a martial arts-style self-defense class, gun safety and visiting a police station. His mother, Cherra Barbour-Smith, beamed as he addressed the room.

“And we could see how cramped the back of a police cruiser is – it’s a bit uncomfortable,” Tayten said, drawing laughter from those close to her.

Tayten added that he preferred the front seat of patrol vehicles. While it will be nearly 10 years before he’s old enough to don an official law enforcement uniform, he is considering a career in the Virginia State Police.

Caitlyn Burchet, [email protected]

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