Anne Arundel County police start pre-arrest diversion program for teens

A new program in Anne Arundel County, Maryland, hopes to help give troubled teens a second chance.

It’s called Fresh START, and the goal is to help teens involved in low-level crimes get back on the right track, rather than arresting them.

“While youth are still held accountable, all consequences are individualized to repair them, repair the harm done to their families and communities and tailor toward their goals in the future,” said Anne Arundel County Police Chief Amal Awad.

START stands for the core values of the program: Safe, Trauma-Informed, Accountable, Restorative and Transparent.

The police department is currently piloting the program in two of the county’s patrol districts. It’s also available to all school resource officers.

“The team provides the family with resources, referrals to services, and meaningful interventions individualized to that youth,” said Timmeka Perkins, juvenile and victim assistance program director for the Anne Arundel County Police Department.

The police department has had diversion programs such as Teen Court for more than 20 years. Anne Arundel County police said that 85% of the teens enrolled in those programs do not have any contact with law enforcement within one year.

Perkins said officials are hopeful this program adds to that success.

“START allows you to have positive interactions with law enforcement, thus improving the department’s relationship with the community,” Perkins said.

The program is designed to decriminalize behaviors while holding youth accountable; reduce racial and ethnic disparities in charging teens; and provide early intervention and services to youth affected by trauma, mental health and/or substance abuse.

“We know that mental illness and trauma adversely impact our young people, and they need resources to deal with these issues,” said Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman. “We know the stigmatizing effect that citations and arrest can have on young people and their parents. The Fresh START program is designed to address the stigma.”

Valerie Bonk

Valerie Bonk started working at WTOP in 2016 and has lived in Howard County, Maryland, her entire life. She's thrilled to be a reporter for WTOP telling stories on air. She works as both a television and radio reporter in the Maryland and D.C. areas. 

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