The Madison Police Department is teaming up with the community to launch a new initiative that aims to connect police officers with youth through outreach programs, officials announced in a press conference Thursday.

The program, known as the Peacemakers initiative, will be a joint effort of law officers and members of the non-profit group Today Not Tomorrow to provide mentoring for people between the ages of 16 and 29.

Today Not Tomorrow is an organization whose mission is to improve family and community life through educating youth about risky behaviors and the community resources available to them which encourage positive living.

Today Not Tomorrow Executive Director Betty Banks said the Peacemakers will help in creating and improving relationships between police officers and neighborhoods through community forums, “speak outs” and educational vignettes.

“[The initiative] will enable participants to better understand the philosophy, values and practices of [MPD] and also enable the police department to better understand the values, cultural practices and perceptions of the neighborhoods,” Banks said. “This will take place from a proactive approach versus a reactive approach of coming together around one specific incident.”

She said the project will initially focus on four neighborhoods: Marquette-Williamson, Darbo-Worthington, Theresa Terrace and Bram’s Addition.

Jeanne Erickson, director of Operations Outreach Programming at Today Not Tomorrow, said officials acknowledge the large student population in Madison, and the program will provide outreach for lower State Street as well.

Madison Police Department spokesperson Joel DeSpain said one of the problems police have seen on lower State Street is youth acting out because they are in an area where no one knows who they are. He said when kids are in their own neighborhoods, they tend to be well behaved, but once they enter an unfamiliar area like State Street, they act as if no one is monitoring their behavior.

DeSpain said the program would connect these kids with police officers and other influential community members. He said he hopes that by doing so, kids would know police are looking out for them, no matter what neighborhood they are in.

Interim MPD Chief Randy Gaber said police will also try to reach youth through social media outlets such as Twitter and Facebook.

Gaber said it is important for the police to look at issues from the community members’ perspectives, as well as for community members to understand the perspective of the police. He said when this occurs, it is easier for the police to form long term relationships with community members, resulting in more trust.

Gaber said although it may take time for these long term relationships to form, once they do, “the sky is the limit.”