The top federal prosecutor for central Illinois says he plans to expand a youth outreach program aimed at high schoolers to Bloomington-Normal, Peoria, and other areas this year.
The Department of Justice’s BLAST program (Building Last Relationships) is a daylong event with five breakout sessions that simulate the everyday work of law enforcement, such as a traffic stop and domestic violence call. They’ve already hosted sessions in Springfield, and U.S. Attorney John Milhiser said he plans to do 20 events across his 46-county district in 2020.
“It’s a great way to talk to these kids, answer questions, and have them meet their local law enforcement folks who are 24/7 out there protecting them,” Milhiser said.
Youth outreach is key, Milhiser said, especially as authorities see more and more violent crime being committed by juveniles.
“We have to try and stem the tide of that,” he said. “So when they’re 20 or 24 years old they’re not sitting in prison. We want to stop that behavior before it gets to that.”
During BLAST, there are also breakout sessions simulating a 911 call and a police-involved shooting. Officers provide students with their perspective on responding to dangerous or uncertain circumstances.
Another law-focused session pairs high schoolers with state and federal prosecutors.
“We give them actual police reports, with the names blacked out, to say, ‘Hey, which criminal charges would you file? Here’s what the law is,'" Milhiser said.
Law enforcement agencies are having trouble recruiting new hires, Milhiser said. BLAST will show young people that there are many different types of jobs in law enforcement, beyond police officer. There are, for example, three staffers in Milhiser’s office who are dedicated to working with victims and witnesses in pending cases.
“One way to combat that is to get out there the message of all the great things that law enforcement,” Milhiser said.
You can also listen to the full interview: