The Charger Blog

Connecticut Institute for Youth and Police Relations Celebrates Inaugural Cohort of Police Trainees

As part of the innovative program, a dozen police officers from Greater Hartford learned how to cultivate strong relationships in the communities they serve, while balancing public safety demands with the best interests of youth and diverse communities.

October 5, 2021

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

Inaugural cohort of police trainees
The inaugural cohort of police trainees from Greater Hartford.

Officer Mark Caruso says he’s a different person than he was when he began an engaging new training program in February designed to cultivate stronger relationships between police officers and the communities they serve.

A 19-year veteran of the East Hartford Police Department, Officer Caruso was part of the inaugural cohort of police trainees in an innovative program created by the University of New Haven’s Connecticut Institute for Youth and Police Relations (CIYPR). He spoke to his fellow graduates as part of CIYPR’s first graduation ceremony.

“I knew this training would be worthwhile because of the passion and belief the instructors had in the program,” he said. “I was also inspired by the talent and diversity of my fellow trainees.”

Image of Lorenzo Boyd, Mark Caruso, and Daniella Cooper.
Left to right: Lorenzo Boyd, Ph.D., Officer Mark Caruso, and Danielle Cooper, Ph.D., CPP.
‘The passion these officers have for community involvement blows me away’

Focused on balancing the demands of public safety with the best interests of youth and Black and diverse communities, the program was led by faculty with expertise in youth justice, child development, and community policing, with the support of Brikitta Hairston, project coordinator. It was developed to enhance the education and training offered to police officers.

The CIYPR is led by Danielle Cooper, Ph.D., CPP, associate professor of criminal justice at the University of New Haven whose research focuses on juvenile justice and delinquency prevention, and Lorenzo Boyd, Ph.D., Stewart Professor in Criminal Justice and Community Policing at the University who is a former law enforcement professional with extensive experience in police training. Dr. Cooper and Dr. Boyd served as the trainees’ instructors. They also brought in expertise from fellow University professors, including psychology professors Kendell Coker, Ph.D., J.D., and Lillie Macias, Ph.D., and Mike Lawlor, J.D., a criminal justice professor, who shared their insights with the trainees.

“The passion these officers have for community involvement blows me away,” said Dr. Boyd, who served 13 years as a deputy sheriff. “This went so far beyond what we had originally envisioned. Although these officers are graduating, this is not the end. They will continue their community engagement.”

Image of Lorenzo Boyd, Mark Caruso, and Daniella Cooper.
Danielle Cooper, Ph.D., CPP; Lorenzo Boyd, Ph.D.; and Kendell Coker, Ph.D., J.D. (right), at the CIYPR graduation ceremony.
‘We need officers who are committed’

The University of New Haven’s Center for Advanced Policing and Tow Youth Justice Institute (TYJI) received a two-year $400,000 grant from the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving and the Travelers Championship to launch the CIYPR. The training program’s curriculum focused on changing approaches to situations that arise in the field and strategies for deescalating them while integrating restorative justice approaches.

“These officers will, hopefully, be a model for other officers,” said Dr. Cooper, director of research for the TYJI. “We don’t want these officers operating in isolation. This is a community, and I hope they will see that their respective communies support them.”

The inaugural cohort included police officers from across Greater Hartford, including from Bristol, Glastonbury, East Hartford, Hartford, the University of Connecticut Police Department, West Hartford, and Windsor, who have regular contact with youths and young adults.

“We need more diversion throughout the state, and that’s my hope for this program,” said William Carbone, MPA, executive director of the TYJI and a senior lecturer in criminal justice at the University who previously served as executive director of the Court Support Services Division of the state of Connecticut’s Judicial Branch. “I hope the measure of our effectiveness isn’t the number of kids we arrest but the number of kids we direct. Other regions have contacted us, and they’re interested in such a program.”

The graduation ceremony, held at the Hartford Public Library, was attended by Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin and Jay Williams, president of the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, who both spoke to the graduates.

As a former mayor of Youngstown, Ohio, Williams worked closely with police. Acknowledging that kids don’t always make good choices, he emphasized the importance of continuing the training program.

“We need officers who are committed,” he said. “At the Foundation, we knew immediately this was an initiative we wanted to be a part of.”

Image of Lorenzo Boyd speaking at ceremony.
Lorenzo Boyd, Ph.D., addresses the inaugural cohort of police trainees at the ceremony.
‘We’re excited for the next chapter’

At the end of the ceremony, graduates were asked to describe their experience in the program in one word. Participants used words such as “insightful,” “worthwhile,” and “enlightening.”

As part of the program, officers completed projects intended to make lasting improvements in their departments’ relationships with youth and families in their respective communities. They presented their projects prior to the graduation ceremony.

Sergeant Luan Bojka of the Hartford Police Department says he and his fellow officers were inspired to develop a trust-building community-engagement project, forming partnerships with the state attorney’s office and Hartford Public Schools. He says they wanted youth to be able to engage with Hartford police officers in a comfortable setting and to develop a bond, interacting in a setting such as a Yard Goats baseball game.

As part of the program, participants engaged with youth via Zoom, as well as in person. That’s something that Officer Caruso, the East Hartford Police officer, found especially meaningful.

“Our job as police officers is always changing and evolving,” he said. “I am confident our commitment to youth will be fruitful. We’re excited for the next chapter, and we’re looking forward to putting smiles on kids’ faces.”