Advocate Photo by BRAD KEMP Former Lafayette Parish Sheriff Mike Neustrom, left, is greeted by Lafayette Parish Mayor-President Joel Robideaux, right, while attending the swearing in ceremonies for new sheriff Mark Garber Friday July 1, 2016 at the Lafayette Parish Sheriff Office Complex in Lafayette, La.

BRAD KEMP

Headlines across our nation have many asking questions about the desperate need for solutions that will improve community-police partnerships.

How can we overcome the increasing divide between law enforcement and the public that is creating an environment of mistrust and increased violence? Who are the change agents? Who can make an impact that will reverse the relational epidemic sweeping our nation? In response, there is a movement of nonprofit organizations who are in the trenches partnering with law enforcement to improve the outlook and perceptions of the police and public.

One such program, #BreakingBarriers, debuted at AMIkids Baton Rouge, bringing the Baton Rouge Sheriff’s Office and at-risk youth together in a setting that promoted mutual respect and communication toward forging positive relationships. This debut event is part of AMIkids’ statewide and national effort to bridge the gap in police-community relations — particularly as it relates to law enforcement and at-risk youth.

By creating opportunities for increased dialogue and interaction with police and troubled youth, AMIkids hopes to increase trust and break down the barriers that divide the communities it serves.

Nationally, #BreakingBarriers will include dozens of AMIkids programs in nine states with community-based events that will increase dialogue and positive interaction between law enforcement and troubled youth. AMIkids will sustain this partnership long-term with ongoing relationship-building activities that will have a lasting impact on the police officers and communities they serve.

As the AMIkids National Board of Trustees chairman, I’ve met countless youth who have been touched by violence in their neighborhoods and are affected by the daily exposure to rising tension between the public and law enforcement. With the mission of helping troubled youth realize their potential and positively transform their lives, AMIkids is on the front lines working with at-risk youth in low opportunity communities. Nonprofits, like AMIkids Baton Rouge, know how important it is to heal what’s broken today to impact the reality of tomorrow. Our youth are our future and programs like #BreakingBarriers can help them find common ground with the police, enabling them to forage the positive relationships required for both parties to be successful.

With AMIkids’ track record of serving more than 10,300 troubled youth throughout Louisiana, I have no doubt that #BreakingBarriers will have a lasting impact here in the state and beyond. AMIkids understands the obstacles that troubled youth face when seeking to realize their potential and transform their lives. Some of those obstacles can be overcome one kid and one police officer at a time. That’s our goal with #BreakingBarriers. Together, with the many other nonprofits that are on the front lines taking action, we can become a catalyst for the positive shift we all hope to experience in community-police partnerships.

Mike Neustrom

retired sheriff

Lafayette