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Honoring Youth Is Prescription for the Future

Unlike some "feel good" programs, that seem to come and go in our society, the "Do the Right Thing" program is still going strong in its birthplace — Miami

December 01, 2000  |  by John A. Makholm

Once the winners are chosen, a monthly awards ceremony is held, usually at a city hall or other comparable government building. These ceremonies are well attended by council members, commissioners, friends and families of the recipients. As media events, they highlight positive interaction between police officers and local youth. Said Chief Gibbs, the students "are the true champions and modern-day heroes, worthy of all the accolades and praises which they receive. Let us place them in the limelight and hold them up as role models for their peers to emulate." And, in these times, positive role models for our young people are sorely needed.

Continued Recognition

Each month the honored youths are rewarded not only by the ceremony, but by being given prizes that range from official "Do the Right Thing" caps, T- shirts and the law enforcement agency badge, to trophies, tote bags, admittance tickets to sporting events, gift certificates to local businesses and much more. Then at the end of the year, "finalists" are chosen among the monthly winners to be honored at a regional awards ceremony.

The "Do The Right Thing" program does not just hand out the awards and then  move on to the next recipients. Officer Reynolds thought it was important to note that in her chapter, board members strive to keep the kids involved with the program and the Punta Gorda Police Department by inviting past winners to various events in the community year after year. This helps reinforce the goals of the program. Past winners wear their program shirts and participate in various volunteer events, such as parades and charity events where the public again recognizes these young people.

The Miami chapter, under the leadership of Executive Director Jodi Atkison, took seven of its honorees on a British Airways-sponsored trip to England. The students, Atkison and other officers of the of the Miami Police Department spent four days touring London, where the Miami winners met with the winners from the London chapter. Atkison recently told me that she is "confident 'Do the Right Thing' will continue to grow by leaps and bounds until this program becomes a household name on a local, state, national and international level."

Unlike some "feel good" programs, that seem to come and go in our society, the "Do the Right Thing" program is still going strong in its birthplace - Miami. It has even been credited by the Miami Times as playing "a significant role in crime reduction." Said Warshaw, "The direct correlation between the drop in crime and prevention initiatives like 'Do the Right Thing' is hard to measure, but it subtly exists."

Recently appointed Miami Chief of Police Raul Martinez  added, "It is hard to believe, what originated as a small idea in Miami, has emerged into an international program with 32 chapters in the United States and a chapter in the United Kingdom. The concept for 'Do the Right Thing' is simple, yet effective. That is what makes it an achievable endeavor for every law enforcement agency in the country. The City of Miami Police Department is very proud to be affiliated with this program since its inception."

The only reason the program has not been even more successful is lack of national exposure. In speaking with agency heads and even community policing advocates, I am constantly amazed at how many are still unaware of this program. It's a great way to promote positive role models and allows law enforcement officers to have positive interactions with our youth.

I have always been keenly aware of the importance of police/community partnerships. I grew up on the mean streets of Newark, N.J., and was profoundly affected by my early admiration of one Newark police officer who constantly interacted with the kids hanging out on the streets.  Long before the term "community policing" was coined and popularized, this officer, adept at community policing, inspired me to pursue my career in law enforcement. Meanwhile, many of my young friends grew up to become criminals and drug addicts.

It was just this type of interaction between police and the community that led the Miami Police Department to establish "Do the Right Thing."

For more information, on this nonprofit program, contact Miami Police Department "Do the Right Thing" Program Executive Director Jodi Atkison (305) 579-3344.

John A. Makholm has served in law enforcement for more than 26 years, retiring as chief of police with the Punta Gorda (Fla) Police Department. Makholm earned his Juris Doctorate  from Stetson College of Law and currently works for the law firm of Marino & Walsh in St. Petersburg, Fla. The firm concentrates on defending law enforcement and corrections officers and their agencies. Makholm also serves as an officer with the Treasure Island (Fla.) Police Department, and is an Advisory Board Member of POLICE.

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