Due to social unrest across the country, Gloucester County wanted to find a way to create an open line of communication between its residents and local law enforcement.
So the county prosecutor’s office has organized Bridge the Gap, a forum that allows high school students and the Washington Township Police Department to have open discussions about different topics.
“This is important, because the tragic death of George Floyd opened our country’s eyes,” said police Chief Patrick Gurscik. “Trust was shattered, and safety is compromised when people experience inequitable law enforcement.
“We can’t have that in Gloucester County, and we won’t have it in Washington Township.”
Bridge the Gap’s forum is currently taking place over Zoom because of COVID-19 restrictions and is moderated by counselors and therapists from Acenda Behavioral Health.
“I think communication is a huge part of any realm,” said Jacqueline Cabán, senior assistant prosecutor in the county and committee chair for external outreach. “Just understanding what’s going on and understanding it is not us vs. them, and that we are all in this together.”
The forum brings together about 10 to 15 high-school students and allows them to ask questions and have constructive conversations with police. Topics include what it’s like to be an officer and why one would become a member of law enforcement.
Officers are also able to ask questions regarding fear of law enforcement and how police can ease anxiety for someone coming in contact with an officer.
“The youth want to know about police officers,” Cabán explained. “Most of what they want to know is that there is a person behind the badge.”
The students are broken into small groups and there are separate break-out rooms for adults. According to Cabán, the adult rooms help students feel more comfortable asking questions in a setting filled with their peers.
The first session took place on Sept. 3 and due to its success, the county wants to set up another session, as well as expand the program throughout Gloucester County.
“I think that it was very insightful to hear the perspective of the students and parents,” said Prosecutor Christine Hoffman. “It was a learning moment for law enforcement as well and something we will take going forward.
“Hopefully we will go over ways to improve the forum and further develop it.”
The prosecutor’s office will announce the next Bridge the Gap forum via social media. Students who want to participate can contact Cabán at firstname.lastname@example.org or (856) 384-5526