Improving Interactions between Youth and Police in Philadelphia


Stoneleigh Fellow: Rhonda McKitten, 2016-2019


Rhonda McKitten, Esq., is working with the Philadelphia Police Department (PPD) to expand officer training designed to reduce the escalation of conflicts between youth and police.  In addition, she is advising City stakeholders on incorporating adolescent development research into ongoing juvenile and criminal justice reforms. 

The Need

Developmental differences in young adults make them more likely to be impulsive, susceptible to negative peer influences, and less able to weigh the long-term consequences of their actions – all of which can lead to escalated interactions with law enforcement.  Therefore, it is critical that officers are trained to both understand and respond appropriately to young people’s behavior.  By changing the ways officers and youth interact, there is tremendous potential to reduce unnecessary arrests and establish trusting relationships that can lead to improved community safety.

Fellowship Description

Rhonda will be situated in the PPD’s Central Office.  In recent years, the PPD has been praised nationally for its proactive efforts to improve community-police relations.  The PPD recognizes the importance of interacting with youth and welcomes the opportunity to develop an enhanced curriculum. 

To assist the Department in this, Rhonda is carrying out the following activities: 

Research Best Practices and Develop Trainings

  • Audit PPD’s existing policies and trainings, and provide insight related to national best practices. 
  • Revise and develop new training curricula focused on adolescent development, trauma-informed policing, gender-responsive policing, and reducing implicit bias.
  • Design a plan to first pilot and then roll out the new trainings across police districts.
  • Promote research-based approaches to policing youth through participating in community and justice stakeholder meetings.

Implementation of Trainings, Policy Changes, and Sustainability Planning

  • Deliver trainings in coordination with Police Academy staff; ensure they are integrated into ongoing professional development requirements for officers.   
  • Institutionalize the trainings, including the development of a train-the-trainers component and a series of manuals that can be used by these staff trainers after the Fellowship’s end. 
  • Disseminate the curricula to stakeholders at the state and national level to encourage replication.
  • Serve as a liaison for the PPD across related reform initiatives, and advise the PPD to ensure its overall policies and procedures are informed by adolescent development research.