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Syracuse Common Councilors search for solutions to address repeat juvenile offenders

In this screenshot, officers speak with the 8-year-old boy, his father, and three other boys. The blurring of their faces was done by SPD to protect their identities.
Syracuse Police Department
In this screenshot of officer body cam video, officers speak with the 8-year-old boy, his father, and three other boys. The blurring of their faces was done by SPD to protect their identities.

Syracuse common councilors are among those grappling with the implications of the police interaction with an 8-year-old boy who stole a bag of chips last week. It was caught on video by a bystander, and went viral, attracting national news outlets. The council’s public safety committee held a meeting Monday with the police chief and others to brainstorm ways to avoid the interaction to begin with, and to figure out how to get troubled children the help they need. Chief Joe Cecile says officers have taken repeated complaints from north side store owners, residents, and elected officials about this boy and others causing havoc at stores for weeks, even months.

"As a result of these chronic complaints, a district captain went to the children's home not less than a month ago, giving the kids badge stickers, which they immediately put on their shirts. Then this district captain, who is an extremely busy person, sat down and spent time speaking to the father and the four boys, talking to them about school, after school programs, and what they enjoy doing. Community policing 101."

Cecile says officers have even played sports with the boys through the police athletic league. But he says not all solutions should involve the police, and adds that other agencies need to intervene.

He admits the initial bystander video of the boy crying in the back of a police car is hard to watch, but additional officer body cam footage shows officers taking he boy home and spending considerable time talking to him and his father. He was never handcuffed or arrested, but his father was issued an appearance ticket. Public safety committee chair Chol Majok wonders what can be done when it seems the safety nets in place aren’t working.

"Where do we intervene, and say, you know what? Something different has to happen. Something different has to happen because if officers keep showing up 2, 3, 4 times, social services is aware, school is aware, CPS [child protective services] is aware, what do we do here?

Deputy Mayor Sharon Owens says there are plenty of services available; it's just a matter of connecting them to those in need.

"The county has invested millions of dollars into the school district. Are any of those models we can use but replicate in the community as well instead of building something from scratch?"

Plus, she says there is existing police protocol that already call for empathetic approaches.

"We know we have the diversionary response model. I don't look to reinvent that model. But how can I evolve that model so that it effectively and efficiently addresses children."

Officers do run into barriers when it comes to dealing with juveniles; privacy laws prevent police from sharing names with other agencies that might be able to help children or their families. After an hour of discussion, Councilors and Chief Cecile acknowledged that dealing with troubled juveniles is a very complicated issue with no simple answers.

Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at