Retired Philadelphia Police Deputy Commissioner Kevin Bethel poses in a building on the campus of Drexel University on Monday, July 24, 2017, in Philadelphia, Pa. Bethel oversees the Philadelphia School Police Diversion Program. (Photo by Chloe Elmer/PublicSource)

My life mirrors many of the youth I encounter every day in the City of Philadelphia and across this nation. My mother raised four African-American boys alone after my father left our home. We were poor and over the years we struggled. I remember the days when we went without gas, electricity or food and the evictions that resulted in the loss of everything we owned.

My mother fought hard to keep us on the straight and narrow, and I am thankful every day that she was successful. I made it through the crazy adolescent years, went to college (dropped out) and joined the Philadelphia Police Department in December 1986. For the next 29 years, I was fortunate to serve with some of the bravest men and women I know.

During the final four years of my career, I became immersed in the issues around the number of youth arrested in schools in Philadelphia and across the nation. I learned that every year, thousands of children would be arrested in schools. A disproportionate number of these youth are African American and Latino. Many are poor. I was amazed to find that in Philadelphia County, a child as young as 10 (the minimum age of arrests in Pennsylvania) would be taken into custody solely for carrying a pair of scissors into school. (Yes, a pair of scissors.) These scissors and other items are often detected because the majority of our kids go through a metal detector prior to entering their school buildings. The child is transported to our juvenile processing location, placed in a 6-foot-by-6-foot cell. The child is subjected to fingerprinting and photographing. Can you imagine the trauma inflicted on a child as they go through this process? Is this an offense the juvenile justice system needs to address?


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