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POLICE PROGRAM TEACHES AT-RISK YOUTHS RIGHT FROM WRONG

The subject was shoplifting, and eight young people considered at risk of getting into trouble had just watched a video in Buffalo Police Headquarters that showed two girls getting arrested in a department store.

"OK, what did they do wrong?" Detective Ann Fraterrigo asked the group.

A girl in the front row responded, "Well, they were too close to the cashier for one thing."

"No, no," the detective replied, seeing she had her work cut out for her. "This isn't about how to get away with shoplifting. This is about not shoplifting and what happens if you get caught."

The Community Intervention and Treatment for Youth program, a joint effort by the Police Department and the city Department of Human Services, had its first class Saturday before an audience whose attendance had been "strongly recommended" by the Probation Department and other authorities.

The program is for kids ages 10 to 15 and voluntary sessions will be held the second Saturday and the fourth Tuesday of each month, according to program coordinator Lynn R. Taylor.

While part of the aim is to teach kids there are consequences to their actions, "we also want them to know there are people who can help them," said Detective Fraterrigo of the Juvenile Bureau.

"Sometimes it's not the kid's fault," she said. "We've had kids reported as runaways, but they were only trying to get out of the house because the mother's boyfriend was doing drugs."

Younger and younger children are committing more and more serious crimes and the idea is to intercede now in the hope of preventing a more serious situation later, Ms. Taylor said.

Detective Fraterrigo said she has dealt with 10-year-olds accused of rape and assault with a weapon.

One of the lessons Saturday was that situations can escalate, such as the recent death of a Niagara Falls youth from a single punch, she said.

Sharon Townsend, chief judge of Family Court, talked about the court system and what can happen when young people come before her, including being locked up.

"I want to make sure I don't see you in Family Court," she said. "And if I do, I want to make sure I don't see you in adult court."

Even though you didn't steal a car, if you're caught riding in it, you can be charged, she said. The law presumes you knew it was stolen, she said.

Three adults also attended the session and afterwards one, a grandmother, said she was there because of her grandson's family situation.

"I thought it was very good," she said of the two-hour program. "If he doesn't have to come back (in police custody), we'll know it worked."

Further information on the program is available by calling 851-4121.

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