Drexel University students are currently trying to bridge the gap between millennials and law enforcement officials in a community effort to open up the conversation with the RETIRE It Movement.
The RETIRE It Movement is an initiative started at Drexel with the purpose of trying to ease tension between millennials and law enforcement officials as part of a competition in collaboration with the Department of Justice. Drexel was one of the 15 universities across the country selected by the Department of Justice to come up with a solution to the ongoing problem of unease between young people and law enforcement officials. The movement is comprised of 14 students within the LeBow College of Business and one member from the Westphal College of Media Arts & Design.
The movement was born in December 2015 with help from local law enforcement officials including former Commissioner of the Philadelphia Police Department Charles Ramsey. RETIRE It stands for Real Education to Inspire the Right Engagement. The name was inspired by Ramsey’s recent retirement, explained Dana D’Angelo, RETIRE It advisor and LeBow professor.
RETIRE It teamed up with West Catholic Preparatory High School located in West Philadelphia as well as the Covenant House, an outreach program that offers support and shelter to the runaway, homeless and trafficked youth of Philadelphia. The students leading the movement have held various events with these organizations to start the conversation by bringing in members of the Drexel Police Department to interact with the kids.
“We decided the best approach and the best way to tackle this problem was to humanize it. To go back in almost an old fashioned way to get to knowing people as people,” D’Angelo said.
“Knowing an officer or someone in law enforcement as not just the guy in the badge and uniform … but as a person who has feelings, who makes decisions, who is dealing with all the same things that any other human would,” she continued.
Before any of the events were held, a pre-campaign survey was administered by RETIRE It to more than 250 students at West Catholic Preparatory High School. They found that only four percent of students had a strong trust for police officers and only 38 percent of students believed it was extremely important for community members and law enforcement to cooperate and respect each other.
The first event called RETIRE It in the Classroom was held at West Catholic Preparatory High School. The students were taught about the process of how police officers make decisions, including everything from initial contact to calming down an angry person. Students also learned how to best interact with officials if they get pulled over or stopped by them.
After the program another survey was given. This time they found a change in the results, with an increase in numbers that showed positive results. In the second survey, 21 percent of West Catholic students had a strong trust for law enforcement and 54 percent found it extremely important for community members and law enforcement to cooperate and respect each other.
“We gauged what they thought about police right after and the bar moved to the right. A good signal to us because it means that the event was successful,” PR Director for RETIRE It Michael Giangiordano, a senior majoring in Finance and Economics, said.
Other events the group ran included RETIRE It Out Loud, a slam poetry event, and RETIRE It on the Walls where kids from the Covenant House and West Catholic got the opportunity to rock climb with members of the Drexel Police Department at the Drexel Rock Climbing Wall.
“Rock climbing is all about trust. You have to trust who you’re climbing with. Trust who is going to hold you and be there with you. You have to able to communicate with them. It’s a symbolic activity that completely surrounds what this whole RETIRE It movement embodies,” D’Angelo explained.
There is also a competition component to the event. In May, members of RETIRE It will compile their data and come up with a report to send to the Department of Justice. If selected as a successful program, the team will go to Washington D.C. to present their ideas and recommendations to the Department of Justice. If they win this competition, the RETIRE It programs will be used throughout the country to help open up the conversation about tensions with law enforcement nationally.
Whatever the outcome of the competition, the hope is that discussion surrounding this issue will continue. The movement has definitely helped to build trust and communication between the participating children and Drexel PD.
“Drexel PD and the Covenant House want to continue this relationship. We’re going to bridge them together and then we’re going to phase out over the next couple of months. Then over time they’ll start hopefully continuing once a month or twice a month. Whatever they decide by themselves. It could be here at the rock wall at Drexel. Or maybe they decide to just talk and get pizza together,” Giangiordano said.
The program has also created a lasting relationship between RETIRE It members and the Drexel PD.
“I think it has brought Drexel PD and made them even more human to our own students,” D’Angelo said.