Q&A: Youth Police Advisory Council Brings Community Voices to Fresno PD

Editor’s Note: In March 2015, Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer announced the formation of a Youth Advisory Council at a reception held by Fresno Boys and Men of Color. The Youth Advisory Council was formed in the following months as a bridge between young people in Fresno and the police department. Youth Reporter Sierra Frank, 23, sat down with Efrain Botello, 18, to talk about his role on the Youth Advisory Council.

Efrain Botello. Photo by Jarrett Ramones.

How do you see your role with the Police Youth Advisory Council?
I want to help Fresno youth and police better understand each other, to strengthen the relationships between the two in order to address conflict.

How does being on the council help you achieve that?
People in the community often don’t have resources to address the Fresno Police Department. Even many police officers don’t get the opportunity to address the chief directly. This position allows me to be the voice of my community.

How does the council work?
[The Youth Council] comes up with questions that we send it to Police Chief Jerry Dyer, who then decides how to address the questions during our meetings.

How has the Black Lives Matter movement and the recent incidents of police violence around the country impacted the council’s work?
The Black Lives Matter movement has really put the spotlight on officers. Our police youth council is there to get the voices heard. It’s really about advocacy, and coming up with ways that ensure what happened in those places does not happen here in Fresno.

Do you worry that the issues we saw in places like Baltimore and Ferguson also exist in Fresno?
Baltimore and Ferguson were extreme. The idea is not to let it get there.

How can young people protect themselves from police violence or other abuses when they occur?
Try to prevent interactions with cops from escalating. If a problem occurs you can get the badge number and report it to the department. It is best to follow the rules [because] they have the upper hand regardless.

Do you feel that the Fresno PD reflects the communities it serves?
It is rare when people who come from high crime and over-policed neighborhoods become police officers. We need to get more people who come from those neighborhoods interested in law enforcement. There needs to be more diversity in terms of backgrounds and upbringings.

How can we collectively work together to make things better in the community for people of color and law enforcement?
Communication is the biggest key. There is a lot of misunderstanding on both sides and it’s going to take some time, but I think we’ll get there. It’s about advocacy, and getting the voices out there.