ST. LUCIE COUNTY, Fla. - Teenagers and deputies in St. Lucie County got the chance Thursday to tell each other exactly what they think of one another.
At times, the truth was brutal, but it’s also giving the teens and deputies a chance to open up about what both can do to improve their relationships in the future.
It was part of the sheriff’s office youth dialogue program.
The St. Lucie County Sheriff’s office has hosted the program for a year, holding their fourth event Thursday evening.
It included teens from all walks of life, and deputies from various departments in the agency.
The teens and deputies wrote down words to describe what they felt about each other. Some deputies described some teens as 'entitled' or 'mean,' while the teens also got the chance to use words like 'killers' or 'arrogant.'
“They thought of us as murderers, killers,” said Deputy Denetta Johnson. “I could agree with some of it. And then some of it I couldn’t agree,” said 17-year-old Isabelle Garcia.
However, they both discussed why they had those images of each other, and quickly learned overall, they were wrong.
Later on, teens and deputies paired up for one-on-one conversations over dinner to get to know each other better.
“We want them to know that these green uniforms, that we’re still that guy, the person they can come to when they need help,” said Lt. James Wills.
Johnson and Garcia were paired together. “I just like to hear what they have to say, what it is that I can correct just to see us in a whole different way,” Johnson said.
She works in the jail and does not always get the opportunity to engage with the youth this way. “We are normal. This is not who we are, it’s what we do.”
Finally, the night ended with teens and deputies switching places during a staged traffic stop, so both could better understand any fears or concerns each group feels in that scenario.
“We support them, but there’s also times where we don’t agree with everything law enforcement does,” Garcia said. But, Garcia said she did walk away with a better understanding of deputies' work, and an improved perception of their job.
The program began in Gainesville in 2012 with the River Phoenix Center for Peace Building and has spread to other agencies across the state.