Racine launched a probe into the encounter and joined police officials to review current general orders for officers and training methods to recommend changes.
“We just want to handle our juveniles in the most professional way,” Newsham said in an interview. “You have to have an understanding that these kids aren’t fully developed emotionally and mentally.”
D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said she hoped a gentler approach to children would improve community-police relations.
“They’re different,” the mayor said. “They’re not just little adults. They’re developmentally different, and we want to put them in the right lane to get them the help that they need, divert them from the system if possible, so we are not seeing them when they are older and involved in much more serious crime.”
The police chief announced the changes to D.C. Council members Tuesday morning at a legislative breakfast.
“We want the public to know that when we do come in contact with kids who have been involved in criminal behavior, they are going to be treated very, very carefully,” Newsham said.
Incidents last spring “painted the police department in a very negative light,” Newsham said, so officials launched the review to improve how police engage youth and better educate officers about issues such as child development.
Police discussed changes with multidisciplinary juvenile groups, the Juvenile Justice Clinic at Georgetown University and union leaders to help design new policies, Newsham said.
Effective immediately, officers will be prohibited from handcuffing juveniles 12 and younger. Officers will have discretion to handcuff teenagers age 13 to 17, based on the severity of the crime and “the behavior of the child that’s involved,” Newsham said. Whether they are a danger to themselves or others will be one of the considerations.
Council members welcomed the changes.
“I am optimistic that this is really going to set the stage for what we want across the whole country,” said council member Charles Allen (D-Ward 6), who chairs a committee overseeing D.C. police.
Council member Robert C. White Jr. (D-At Large), one of the most vocal critics of police interactions with children, called the changes “a strong step forward for the city.”
The new policies also encourage officers to seek custodial arrests for crimes that are not committed against people and “when there are no immediate public safety concerns,” Newsham said. In such cases, police will release juveniles to parents or guardians, and investigators will seek an arrest warrant through the attorney general’s office. The juvenile suspects may be taken into custody at a later time if a judge approves a warrant.
This approach would avoid public arrest displays for juveniles accused of non-felony offenses, such as joyriding in stolen cars and some theft cases.
“That has been our policy for our school resource officers, but now we’re expanding it to our whole police department,” Newsham said.
Officers will begin online training in the policy changes Friday and will continue to get instruction through annual training, Newsham said. In addition to policy changes, officers will be taught de-escalation tactics for dealing with juveniles, information about childhood brain development and “trauma-informed policing,” designed to alert officers that past trauma might be at the root of behavior during encounters with police.
“One of the biggest complaints we have are from the residents who feel it’s the young people creating the quote-un-quote havoc, so to speak,” said council member Anita Bonds (D-At Large). “This is a very important area for all of us to understand in this city that there are systems in place and young people can be referred to them.”
In April, Racine said his office would review best practices across the country to recommend necessary changes to D.C. police policy. In a statement this week, Racine said that collaboration produced “new tools for police to engage” juveniles in the city.
“These changes reflect a comprehensive review of proven practices which show that responding to the unique needs of children improves public safety,” Racine said in a statement. “When police can use interactions with young people as an opportunity to establish trust and help kids stay on the right path, everyone benefits.”