Who wouldn’t want a chance to correct a mistake that seriously impacted one’s life, to go back and erase some act of bad judgment as if it never happened?
Well, youths who have a brush with the law in Mount Airy can do just that, and it doesn’t require a time machine or magic trick — just a sincere desire to atone for wrongdoing and keep it from happening again.
This is possible through the Second Chance Program of the city police department, which began last year.
Through that initiative, first-time offenders facing offenses such as possession of marijuana, larceny, speeding, shoplifting, careless and reckless driving, no operator’s license and others can avoid being charged and introduced to the court system.
Thus, they circumvent a fine or other punishment, the stigma of having their names published in the newspaper and a criminal record that can present long-lasting financial or other repercussions.
But there’s a catch: To successfully complete the program and avoid those implications, individuals involved must volunteer a specified number of community-service hours for a non-profit organization of their choosing.
In addition, the program requires participants to engage in decision-making discussions surrounding their unlawful activity and ethical dilemmas, police officials say.
The offenders also must sign a contract agreeing to all this, or if under 18, get their parents to sign.
“And then it unfolds from there,” Police Chief Dale Watson said of the program, which seeks to get those who commit minor crimes on a positive track so they won’t repeat mistakes possibly leading to habitual wrongdoing.
“Our outcome has been very positive,” Watson said of the city police involvement in the Second Chance Program, which 17 individuals, mostly males, have entered so far.
“Out of the 17, we had one individual that successfully completed the program, but within a short time after, they found themselves in trouble again,” the chief said of that person, who was charged with shoplifting. “And that was unfortunate.”
This still makes for a good batting average and Watson realizes that while some youths are grateful for the opportunity to get a “do-over,” some will not fulfill the contractual obligations.
“But it gives them a chance,” the police chief said.
“It gives them that initial opportunity, rather than being labeled.”
Started in Dobson
Although the Mount Airy Police Department is the largest municipal police force in Surry County, it looked for guidance from a neighbor to the south when implementing the Second Chance Program in the city.
“Actually, we have to give credit to Chief (Shawn) Myers over in Dobson,” Watson said. “He started it back in 2013.”
Myers knew a young person who got into trouble with the law, and ended up with a criminal record and the related baggage because no such program was available then. “And he wanted to try to work with others so that wouldn’t repeat itself,” Watson said of Myers.
“I think it was a pioneering project that he started to address a real need.”
After the program originated in Dobson, it spread elsewhere in the county, coinciding with a desire to better deal with younger people who get into trouble but have the potential to change.
“Our local court system was tasked to this issue of youthful offenders and wanted some way to divert them (from the criminal justice process),” Watson explained.
After meeting with Myers, he “graciously” consented to help Mount Airy start its program, the Mount Airy chief said.
One’s involvement for the process can begin when he or she gets pulled over or otherwise comes into contact with police officers. If they fit the criteria for the Second Chance Program of being a first-time offender, the arresting officer provides the youths with information about what it entails.
“We look for those around 18 and under,” Watson said of the target age range, which he would like to expand at some point.
While there is no charge for enrolling in the program, offenders who might owe restitution to victims for the crimes they have committed must pay it in full before they can be certified as completing it successfully.
If the person fails to meet the stipulations of the contract for that or other reasons, it is terminated and any appropriate charges will be filed.
Mom praises program
One local teen’s completion of the Second Chance Program certainly has made a difference for her family, the girl’s mom said Friday. (Her name and that of the daughter are not being included to adhere to the program goal of bypassing publicity for participants.)
The daughter, now 17, was pulled over in Mount Airy for speeding, and also was in violation of a restriction for a limited provisional license that prohibits younger persons from driving unsupervised past 9 p.m.
She was in the vehicle with a person governed by the same restriction.
The mother said she was concerned about her child getting into trouble and also about the effects that might have on the family’s auto insurance, due to the girl having been added to the policy.
Instruction her daughter received during the program made her realize the need to stay away from the wrong crowd, while the community-service requirement also instilled a sense of responsibility in the youth, her mom indicated.
“She learned her lesson,” the parent added of what the program accomplished. “She’s been out of trouble from that point on; it’s helped a lot.”
The mother said she would recommend the Second Chance Program to others who qualify. “The officers were all good to work with,” she commented.
“We see it as an investment,” Chief Watson said of the Second Chance Program and the long-term benefits it can offer the community.
“It has been awesome,” he mentioned in assessing the effort. “We’ve met some good young people.”
Watson has only one regret regarding the launching of the Second Chance Program in the city:
“I’m just a little bit sorry we waited this long to do it,” he said.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.