He found himself lying in a nursing home bed at the age of 45. Darryl Owens, a Boston police officer, disciple of Jesus and a member of the Boston Church of Christ, had – in the course of his twenty years on the force – been a member of the SWAT team, the late Mayor Menino’s personal driver and bodyguard, and the self-defense instructor to over 1000 police officers. Now he lay in a bed in a nursing home at the age of 45, hoping to recover from a double hip replacement. He worried that his life would never be the same, and prayed that God would show him what to do next. The next day, his surgeon came in to see him. Much to his surprise, the doctor informed Darryl that he would be feeling great in a couple of weeks. “Now you need to do something really big with your life,” he told Darryl. After recovering from the shock of being challenged by his surgeon, Darryl thought of his youth as a young black man and the flawed perceptions of the police that he had held at the time. He knew that many young men today have the same misconceptions, and he wanted to change that. So Officer Owens decided to create a Police Academy for teenagers in order to address the vast cultural divide and the many misconceptions between the Police Department and Boston’s youth.
Extremely wide open
He began making calls, and at every step he felt as though God was saying, “I approve.” God had thrown the gates “extremely wide open,” he said.
Over the last five years of the Boston Police Teen Academy, the program has received unequivocal support from two police commissioners, two mayors, and two superintendents, some of whom have spoken at the graduation ceremony at the end of each session. Owens also made contact with the owners of Blauer Uniform Company, the foremost vendor of police uniforms in the Northeast United States. After surveying the Teen Academy, one of the Blauer brothers said, “This is a great program. I want to support this program. What do you need?” Within minutes, Owens had secured two uniforms for each of the 60 teens for the next three years. The Teen Police Academy program has also developed an integral partnership with HOPE worldwide, whose grant writing won a $7500 award from the Staples Foundation last year and a $13,000 grant this year.
Every summer for six weeks , 60 teens are paid to learn at the Boston Police Academy in Hyde Park. Teenagers arrive at 9:00 am, take part in physical training, and then attend classes with subjects like personal growth and character development to conflict resolution. Stories abound of teenagers who entered the program with preconceived notions about the police and challenging attitudes, but who graduated with a sense of worth and purpose, and the knowledge that there are police officers like Darryl Owens and the other officers at the Boston Police Teen Academy who genuinely care about them. On one occasion, a teenager, forgetting where he was, spat on the ground at the Police Academy. Officer Owens strongly corrected him and ordered him to go inside, get a paper towel and water, and clean up his mess. It took a long time for the teenager to come back out, but he did. He cleaned up his mess, humbly apologized to Owens, and thanked him, saying, “I realized that if I didn’t clean it up, someone else would have to.” The lesson stuck. At graduation, the teenager’s older, heavily-gang-involved brother came up to Darryl and asked, “Are you the one who made my brother clean up the spit in the parking lot?” “Yes, I was” Darryl said. “That was mad cool, man,” the brother said, “Thank you so much. He always talks about that moment.”
Throughout the program, there are phrases that Darryl often repeats to the teenagers: “Again. Faster.” “Again. More.” “Again. Better.” He wants to teach them not to settle. Owens has the same mentality in terms of the future of this program, and is hoping for the academy to function year-round during winter and spring breaks, to be self-sustaining and funded through the Boston Police Department, to have a national partnership with HOPE worldwide, and to become a national model for police departments across the nation. While these goals are lofty and will be challenging, it is easy to stay motivated with a job like this, especially when the impact is so noticeable. Shortly after the shooting of a black teenager named Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson, Missouri on August 9, 2014, Boston’s Mayor Marty Walsh was asked on a radio show why newspapers are not ablaze with stories of Boston police officers shooting unarmed black youth. Walsh was quick to mention the Boston Police Teen Academy.