Hot Topic: Do police profile teens?

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The staff of Teen Style is made up of girls 13 to 17 years old. They are clean cut. They are good students and, by volunteering their time to write for Teen Style, they have shown the desire to interact with the community at large.

But even these girls think they are at risk of being "profiled" by law enforcement simply because they are teens. Ironically, not one of the girls has had a personal run-in with law enforcement, but they all said they have heard stories from other teenagers.

The issue is not new. In the fall of 2003, concerned residents raised issues with local law enforcement officials, including that teens were being unfairly targeted and harassed. J.D. Hays, the city's director of public safety, defended his staff's actions. Hays noted the police department's local outreach efforts to teens, including the community resource officer and police-sponsored teen events. He also cited a SteamboatCares survey showing high levels of drug and alcohol abuse among local teens and said police would be aggressive in trying to curb such underage substance abuse. The Routt County Sheriff's Office and Colorado State Patrol echoed similar sentiments.

Still, the perception among Teen Style participants is that they could be targeted by police just because they are teens. Certain bumper stickers -- such as skateboarding advertisements -- snowboards in the roof rack or a "dumpy car" could get you pulled over, they fear, even if they aren't doing anything wrong.

Teens get in trouble for loitering. They get in trouble for riding bikes, they said.

"I think there are bad kids out there, and they think we're all like that," said Kylie Hawes, 15.

"Maybe we're just easy targets," said Josie Pacana, 14.

"It seems like you read the police blotter every day, and people are calling the cops all the time about teens just because they're walking down the street," said Sierra Weir, 13. "Maybe if there was a cool place to hang out, we could do what we want and not always be getting into trouble."

After school, when the girls don't have school activities, they like to just walk around.

"But I think people think kids are going to rob them or something," Pacana said.

Pacana said her mother is the district manager of a grocery store in a larger city and that there are teens who hang out in the parking lot, harassing customers and stealing carts. She does not think the teens hanging around downtown Steamboat are like that, she said.

"There are kids who hang around smoking and blocking doorways, but not all kids are like that," Hawes said. "And those kids who aren't doing that, they don't get noticed."

The conversation kept coming around to the same comment, "If we just had something to do."

We decided to talk about solutions.

Some juvenile offenses reported in the police blotter involve vandalism. For the teens who have that kind of energy, Northcutt suggested putting a wall up somewhere (maybe by the skate park) where kids could put graffiti.

Weir suggested offering reduced ski lift tickets for local teens so they would have a place to hang out in the winter.

Chrissy Ford, 13, suggested making a film for adults that would show a teenager dressed "suspiciously" and a teen dressed in "normal clothes." The camera would follow the teens and show the "suspicious" teen doing something good to show the adults their stereotypes.

"Adults think they know everything that we're going through because they were teens once," Pacana said, "but things have changed since they were kids."

"What they thought was fun isn't fun anymore," Northcutt said.

The teens decided one of the solutions would be to find a way for adults and teenagers to interact with each other more.

"They don't ever understand us," said Suzie Ford, 16.

But who should make the effort?

"I think it's up to the police to make the effort," Hawes said.

"We should meet somewhere in between," said Mataya Flaharty, 15.

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