As local law enforcement agencies prep next week to show how they interact with the community, efforts to keep youths from becoming involved in the juvenile justice system reportedly have gained momentum with the introduction of a youth intervention specialist for the Bloomington Police Department.
Michael Donnelly, who works as community impact manager with the United Way of McLean County, will work part time with police to identify and mentor at-risk youth.
Mayor Tari Renner said the city is not alone in the challenges posed by youths who get into trouble. Calling youth crime "one of the top social issues" among mayors, Renner said a $25,000 grant from State Farm will allow Donnelly to work with youths and their families to address small matters before they become bigger ones.
A similar program funded by State Farm has been in place at the Normal Police Department since 2008.
BPD Chief Brendan Heffner said Donnelly will work with the agency's four school resource officers and McLean County juvenile probation staff to help students who need guidance.
"We know we won't save every young person we come in contact with," said Donnelly, but building a bridge that serves police, families and social services is a positive first step.
Donnelly's prior experience working with youth through several community programs makes him a good fit, said Heffner.
Retired 11th Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Elizabeth Robb attended the announcement at BPD and said Donnelly "knows the families and the system," agreeing having a person who knows how to talk to youths about the consequences of their mistakes will provide the community with a much-needed resource.
McLean County State's Attorney Jason Chambers also applauded the city for obtaining the grant and for hiring Donnelly.
"Its not unusual for adults in the criminal justice system to have a history of police contact as a juvenile. A lot of what law enforcement does is reactive. It's great to see someone working on prevention," said Chambers.
City officials did not have an estimate for the number of youths Donnelly could see during the year he will work under the grant. With the onset of warm weather when youths are typically more active, he could be busy, Heffner admitted.
The city plans to seek a renewal of the grant after its reviews statistics on the impact Donnelly's work has on police interaction with at-risk youth.