HOUSTON - Houston Police Chief Troy Finner sat down with a council of teenagers Saturday in hopes of building better relationships between them and officers.
From north Houston where a teenager died after being shot while driving, to the southeast side where another was killed and three others shot during a birthday party, the underage victims grabbed headlines within a week of one another, becoming a focal point for local teens.
More than a dozen representing area high schools met with Houston Chief of Police Troy Finner at HPD Headquarters to share concerns and learn about plans to make streets safer for them and their families.
"I drive to school five days a week, and the roads can be a pretty chaotic place," says one student representative.
"We are picking up enforcement on our roadways and our highways," replies Finner. "[You] see a lot of task force units out there, and some of them are undercover."
This Youth Police Advisory Council meets five times a school year. Selected representatives provide a direct line from their peers to police, raising awareness of disturbing trends like a recent uptick in drug-related emergency calls involving teens.
"Make sure you monitor and be cognizant of who you're hanging around," says Finner, asking that the representatives pass on the message to other teens.
The group is also relaying questions from classmates about profiling and tension in their neighborhoods.
"How are you trying to separate yourselves from the media view, mainly in the Black community because I feel like that’s where the disconnect is?" asks Lamar High School senior Matthew Parker.
"You have to acknowledge past pain as fears," responds Finner. "Even when you disagree, sit down and talk honestly, and then you get a better understanding, and then you build trust."
The discussions are meant to spark outreach to educate other students and initiate change in the department.
"We put [in] policy sometimes by listening to these young men and young women and looking at relationships with the police department- what changes they think we should have, also looking at social issues," says Finner.
"Every time they pull someone over, it’s an interpersonal connection," says Bellaire High School sophomore Brisa Roberts. "I hope I can make a difference. I think it’s just the steps that go along the way, and then eventually you’ll see change."
For some of the students, the first step is trying to change minds after opening their own to another perspective.
"I’m taking away how much work they're actively trying to put in and build more of a family inside our community," says Parker.
Next school year, a new YPAC group will take over as some current students graduate into adult leaders with a plan to continue the mission of making Houston safer for generations to come.