When Chris Montes is asked to describe the Farmington Youth Services program FUNCOPS, he mentions deep sea fishing, laser-tag, cookouts and go-karting, which he says “was phenomenal and gave me a big bruise.” Then Montes, Farmington Youth Services’ juvenile justice coordinator, quickly changes the conversation to what the program is really about: building connections.
“We get the police and the kids together to do fun things,” says Montes. “The police go without uniforms or guns, of course. The kids see the police as real people. After they fish or bowl together, their whole idea of what a cop is has changed, and that has a huge impact.”
FUNCOPS (which stands for Farmington Unionville Community Officers Provide Support) is a program designed to develop positive relations between police and at-risk town youth. It’s run by Farmington Youth Services and funded by the Farmington Community Chest, and it delivers numerous benefits to the community.
“The goal is to build relations so middle and high school students see police as real people they can trust,” says Montes. “If they are involved in something inappropriate and the police enter the picture, instead of producing anxiety we’re trying to bring that down.”
Montes says the goal is to have kids think instead, “Hey, I know that guy and I can go to him when I need him. He’s on my side.”
“We’re trying to build that relationship and that perspective,” Montes says. “Often we’re not working with kids who are straight-A students. A lot of the time we’re working with kids who are referred to us by the police or by the schools for something. This program and the impact it’s making is significant.”
Reducing resistance and rebellion
Relationships result in less resistance. “Rules without relationships equal resistance and rebellion,” says Bob Marsh, Farmington Youth Services youth coordinator who runs FUNSCOPS with Montes. “It builds relationships between police and kids. That’s important in a community because if kids are going to see officers as real people and not as threats, they need to do real-people things with them.”
The program affects not only the way our youth see police, but also how the police perceive kids.
“Cops can say, ‘I know this kid, we went fishing together.’ They can now hopefully understand kids are having their own stories of struggle,” Marsh says.
Montes shares a recent story: “During the pandemic, some of the kids built a fort along the river on town property. It’s illegal to do that without town permission. They weren’t getting into trouble. But someone complained. Cops came and dismantled the fort. They said: ‘I’m sorry, but we have to do this.’
“No one got arrested or in trouble. In fact, one of the policemen said he would have done the same thing when he was a kid. ‘If you get some money together,’ one of the cops said, ‘I’ll get some cops to come and we’ll build a fort on private property for you.’
“The police officer had gotten to know the kids because of FUNCOPS, and this incident ended in a positive way because of it.”
Research suggests that experiences, more than possessions, make people happier and generate positive memories.
“As soon as we got back after going go-karting, we heard, ‘When are we going again?’” says Marsh.
There’s a diverse mix of participants. “Most are first involved in Farmington Youth Services. Some may be there because of truancy or being defiant at school. Others come through counseling referrals,” says Marsh. “But some just come because they heard it’s a lot of fun and they want to go fishing or to a baseball game. Often someone asks if they can bring their sister or brother and we say, ‘Come if you want to come! The activities are open to all youth in the community.’”
The group activities attracted around 30 participants before the pandemic, and Marsh and Montes are excited to bring the numbers up again.
“We’re grateful for the support of the Farmington Community Chest to make this program and its tremendous impact possible,” says Montes.
Montes, a psychologist and professor with 30-plus years of experience in counseling, believes it’s crucial that people get to know each other and converse on a human level.
“Imagine the world doing FUNCOPS,” Montes says. “Put people together, build relationships, get to know each other, so when one of them falls, the other picks them up.”
The Farmington Community Chest is proud to support FUNCOPS because it aligns with our organization’s mission to increase the safety and well-being of the Farmington-Unionville community.