MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Twelve Somali teenagers spent the last several weeks conducting mock traffic stops, touring the jail, trying on SWAT gear and investigating a fake crime scene — all part of a Minneapolis police Citizens’ Academy designed just for them.

The teens, ages 14 to 16, graduated from the Minneapolis Police Department Somali Youth Citizens’ Academy on Monday, with a little more knowledge about how the police department and criminal justice system operate, and why authorities act as they do.

“I’m hoping that these kids will become ambassadors and mentors in their community,” said Officer Jeanine Brudenell, the department’s liaison with the East African community. “Maybe they’ll encourage other people to cooperate with the criminal justice system because they understand it better.

“They are going to be the future leaders in the community, so we definitely have to connect with them,” she said.

Reports of gang violence, armed robberies, murders — and most recently, human trafficking — have plagued Somali youth. Federal authorities have also been investigating the travels of roughly 20 young Somali men, believed to have returned to their homeland to join a terror group.

The police department and the Somali community have been working to steer youth in positive directions. The Somali Youth Citizens’ Academy was born after Abdirahman Mukhtar, a youth coordinator at Brian Coyle Community Center, asked for it.

Police had increased their presence in Somali neighborhoods. And while it was appreciated by the elders, some youth felt they were being harassed. Mukhtar thought a class would help youth understand why police make the decisions they do — whether dealing with curfew violations, trespassing or emergency situations.

“Also, that relationship, that contact, will also change the police perspective about young people,” Mukhtar said. “Not every kid is a bad kid. It goes both ways.”

Brudenell said the kids came to class filled with “rapid-fire” questions — many of them about situations they had seen on television shows such as “CSI” or “Law and Order.”

“Some of their expectations of what officers should do were based on what they see on TV,” she said. “I think for a lot of kids, they have a new perspective.”

Brudenell said the teens got to see what it’s like to be an officer, and learn the challenges of the job. During the traffic stop class, for example, the officer who acted like a suspect bent over in the car and the kids couldn’t see what he was doing. Many of the kids said they felt scared because they didn’t know whether the suspect had a mock weapon or not.

The class covered all aspects of the criminal justice system. The students heard from a prosecutor, a defense attorney and probation officers. They learned about the bomb squad, SWAT, forensics and technology, and how all the different parts of the criminal justice system work together.

The teens went to the classes after school and received credit toward their high school government graduation requirement.

Salah Ali, 14, said he learned about his rights as a citizen. But he also learned what it was like to stand in the shoes of a police officer: to have to make a split second decision, not knowing whether a suspect has a gun or not.

“You gotta put your feet in the other person’s shoes,” he said. “If I put my feet in the police officer’s shoes, I see it’s challenging, and it’s dangerous and it’s hard.”

Sixteen-year-old Mohamed Mohamed agreed, saying he learned the importance of cooperating with police. Crimes can be solved faster, he said, if people cooperate instead of ignoring the police, or acting stupid.

“It’s very logical,” Mohamed said. “If you don’t collaborate, it’s just going to make things harder.”

Mohamed said he never really thought much of police before he took the class. But now, he said, he’d talk to other kids who might be confused about what police are doing.

“Now I have a reason to care,” he said.

(© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Comments (16)
  1. Kevin says:

    Police have increased their presence in Somali neighborhoods??? Really??? Gosh I wonder why?? Send them all back to Somallia to learn about Justice Systems…..not on my dollar…..

    1. Craker says:

      If you feed Somilian a 2 cup of DRANO…. You’ll get them to go back to their country… PAss this on to OTHERS..

      1. Minnesotaman says:

        That is absolutely stupid in every way one could imagine. Really? Why would you say such an idiotic and mindnumbingly irrational comment? Haha wow, I didn’t think adults talked like that. To think this happens in our world.

    2. Minnesotaman says:

      Kevin…Mr.Sad Kevin…
      Police are giving back to the community…does it matter if the neighborhood are Somali? I am guessing that your family ancestors immigrated from another country at one point? Have a little hope…have a little sense of pride that you live in this country. And by the way read the article…do you really think this program cost a substantial amount of money? No. You just want to rant about a minority population because it makes you feel superior. Well, if you want to do that…just go out and get some self worth and then you won’t have to pick on the Somali population.

  2. Ed says:

    Would be better off spending that money on plane tickets to send them back home rather than waste taxpayers money and police time to teach them about the american justice system. Why can’t they learn it in school like the rest of the kids.

  3. ohoh says:

    Mayor Rybek who is paying to give your pet protected class this “education”?
    These thugs know the laws, they just dont want them enforced where they are concerned. Why’ll you’re at it why don’t you look up who at the DMV gives these people licenses, they can’t drive, perhaps they shoud go back and get an education on that. Another youtube laugh, just video some of these folks trying to back out of a parking space. Priceless.

  4. Sally says:

    yep yep yep all 3 are right!

  5. swede says:

    wow apparently the comments section is reserved for racists

    1. Dave says:

      And you’re a Swede leftist April Fool.

      1. swede says:

        so not being racist makes me leftist. hmmm nice logic Dave. so you must be a right-wing racist then huh

        1. Pat says:

          Swede, why don’t you volunteer to pay for this yourself? Our taxes are wasted on this endevor. Learn and obey the laws like the rest of the state.

  6. Dave says:

    Is this an April Fool story?

  7. Randi says:

    Thanks for this story. While the prior comments seem ignorant to me, I think that this initiative was a great idea. Knowing the students involved in the project, I am sure that they took away a lot from what they learned and I am sure the police officers learned a thing or two from these students too! While I am not sure if a project like this is funded through tax dollars, I would gladly pay for more community initiatives like this one.

  8. me don't know no english says:

    Amen to all comments made. Tired of all the free stuff this “group” seems to get. It is either two cart loads of food paid with food stamps,very nice affordable housing.or a newer mini van that is newer than my auto. Plus Plus Plus etc.Etc And now spending money for this?? I bet we never see an end to all of this. I just hate to vent but this program is a waste. Now I sppose they will give them fire arms training too.. Wait shots fired.

  9. Crissy Peluso says:

    I think it’s wonderful that these teens were proactive enough to want to learn about the system to help their community and also that the police set up a program that is able to show them. Community policing has been the goal of most police departments across the country for many years and this is a shining example of how education and working with communities can have a positive impact. Teaching the youth in our country is never a waste of resources and bravo to those who volunteer their time to do so!

  10. Rose says:

    Minnesotaman, swede & Randi, Thank you for your positive input. Who are these other people spewing hate & ignorance? Other than the American Indians, we were all immigrants at one time!!! I am an American. I have white-colored skin however I am 8 combined nationalities; my children are 9. Where would you send us when you decide to disagree with our choices & the way we live?
    I think that this program was a great idea & what a perfect place to begin… with “our children”. They did not choose to be where they are. Let us all help them to learn how to live & adapt in their new homes & teach them to help one another in the same caring spirit. If we can accomplish that, those other programs become less necessary.

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