WestCOP Launches Bridge Builders to Foster Positive Dialogue Between Law Enforcement and Local Youth

What started last fall with a series of informal discussions between executives from Westchester-based social services organization WestCOP and leading real estate developer Robert Martin Company about the firm’s desire to seed a new community initiative fostering constructive dialogue surrounding racial and social injustice issues led to the launch of Bridge Builders, a public-private partnership focused on developing and operating three Youth-Police Advisory Councils (YPACs) in Greenburgh, Elmsford, and Tarrytown/Sleepy Hollow.

The Bridge Builders 1st Annual Summit on March 3 featured several notable speakers addressing an audience comprised of numerous law enforcement officials, school district leaders, area youth, community center and non-profit representatives, municipal officials, and business leaders. Summit speakers include: Westchester County District Attorney, the Honorable Miriam “Mimi” Rocah; Attorney at Law and Co-Chairman of the Westchester County Police Reform Taskforce, Mayo Bartlett, Esq.; Greenburgh Chief of Police, Christopher McNerney; Tarrytown Superintendent of Schools, Christopher Borsari; and several students from local school districts participating in the Bridge Builders program.

Seeded with an initial $50,000 grant from Robert Martin Company, a leading tristate real estate developer and management company, Bridge Builders utilizes models recommended by President Obama’s 21st Century Policing Task Force to help facilitate positive interactions and foster open communications between local police officers and youth of color with the goal of establishing long-term relationships to address racial and social injustice issues. YPACs provide non-confrontational educational and engagement opportunities to inspire participants to take constructive action in their respective neighborhoods.

“Robert Martin Company came to us with the concept for creating a series of local police-youth councils, but their ideas and investment were matched with a genuine desire to ultimately have WestCOP shape Bridge Builders based on community feedback rather than dictating the program’s final form,” noted WestCOP Executive Director, Donnovon Beckford. “Because of the company’s willingness to listen more than lead, Bridge Builders launches today with buy-in from many more voices than any other program we have initiated in recent memory.”

“Even in the middle of tackling a pandemic, the national events of last summer resonated with us and demonstrated a real need for business leaders to engage in racial and social injustice issues in a thoughtful and meaningful way,” stated Robert Martin Company CEO, Tim Jones. “After 60 years of philanthropic investments in the areas we serve, senior leadership felt the right time was now to work together with WestCOP, a well-respected organization with deep community roots, to strengthen the lines of communication between law enforcement and local youth, so every voice is heard, every opinion respected, and every issue deemed important addressed head-on.”

Bridge Builders is facilitated by WestCOP project manager, Richard “Rick” Lee, a highly decorated, retired White Plains detective with over 30 years of hands-on community work confronting high-impact youth issues such as domestic violence, bullying, and school delinquency, among others.

Each community’s Bridge Builders Police-Youth Council are primarily comprised of student and at-risk youth representatives, as well as law enforcement officials, charged with the responsibility of working together to develop a series of activities and projects that foster a greater understanding of each other’s perspectives on issues of racial and social injustice, among other goals that come out of on-going constructive dialogue between the two groups.

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