Guiding Local Youth Away from a Life of Crime

The Milpitas Police Department's 'Character Counts' program visits local schools and teaches kids character traits like honesty, respectfulness, trustworthiness and accountability, and tries to teach them about living a life without crime.

It's not uncommon for parents to worry when they kiss and hug their child goodbye each morning - where will he go? What will she do? Will someone bully him? Will someone try to get her to try drugs?

It’s impossible to watch over a child every moment of the day, see everywhere they go, and everyone they talk to. The only thing a parent can do is try and instill in his or her children the good values, morals and intelligence they need to make the right decisions when out there on their own.

That’s exactly what the is trying to help families and elementary schools across the city achieve with its “Character Counts” program.

Officer Mark Doyle of the Community Relations Department is in charge of Character Counts, and helps plan a curriculum with his fellow officers that teaches fifth graders in both public and private schools across Milpitas the “Six Pillars of Good Character”—Trustworthiness, Respect, Responsibility, Fairness, Caring, and Citizenship—and inspire children to live “law-abiding lives” and stay away from drugs, alcohol, gangs and crime.

"Our program is very unique,” Doyle said., “It was created by [a group of officers] with the Character Counts philosophy in mind—which was designed by the Josephson Institute of Ethics—and it was designed as a substitute for the D.A.R.E. program, which was cut by the City Council last year because of the budget crisis.”

Doyle said, the D.A.R.E. program was so lengthy and wide-reaching, it required two fulltime police officers to run, and was therefore too expensive for the City.

“So, our idea was to make a program that could be done with one officer, which is me, making it a little easier to afford,” he said. “And, it’s nice because it makes it so someone from the police can still be out there in the schools, making connections with kids.”

Doyle said, the Character Counts program is divided into five or six different lessons, each one focusing on different “pillars” of good character, as well as discussing different temptations such as drugs, alcohol, tobacco, bullying, gangs, crime and more.

The first lesson typically focuses on Trustworthiness, and “doing what’s right instead of what you shouldn’t,” so you can be seen as trustworthy by others.

Doyle said, to teach the idea, he will describe several scenarios children might find themselves in—such as, standing in the lunch line when the kid in front of you drops his money and doesn’t realize it. A trustworthy person would tell the kid so he could get his money back.

He said he also suggests a scenario in which a “popular kid” you’ve always wanted to like you asks you to go to the store after school, and then steals a candy bar and tries to get you to steal one too.

“We talk a lot about peer pressure,” Doyle explained.

In another lesson, Doyle said he covers a lot about bullying, and the several different types of bullying a kid might face, such as physical, verbal, and cyber-bullying. Then, he starts a discussion with the class about what to do if you find yourself being bullied in one of these ways. He also discusses why you should never bully someone else and always try to be kind, in keeping with the pillars of Fairness and Caring.

The lesson about Responsibility covers ideas such as listening to one’s parents, doing what you’re told, treating others and your possessions nicely, and also how to make the right decisions for one’s life and one’s body.

In other words, it’s not taking care of your body responsibly if you treat it badly with drugs, alcohol or tobacco, no matter how tempting it might be to fit in with others who do. Officer Doyle teaches not only about the dangers to one’s body with these types of substances, but also how it can ruin one’s life by getting them into trouble with the law.

Another lesson covers the needs and wants of children to “fit in” somewhere, be it at home with family, or at school or in the community with peers and groups. He said he covers the temptations gangs might present to someone who wants to fit in—such as drugs, money, power, family and someone who will protect you—but also talks about the negatives of gangs such as violence and crime.

Finally, Officer Doyle encourages the children to think for themselves, and asks them to bring up subjects of tough situations or peer pressures they think about on a daily basis or might see at home, at school, or in their neighborhoods.

“I get everything from graffiti, to littering, to homeless people, to drugs, to cancer,” he said.

Then, Doyle said he splits the kids up into groups, and asks them to brainstorm ways to deal with these dangers and pressures, and then they present their ideas to the class.

At the end of the six-week program, a celebration is thrown for the kids, and officials from the police department and City of Milpitas will come.

“The kids get to march through and they get certificates, and get to shake the VIPs’ and chief’s hands,” he said. “Certain kids will get special recognition for showing leadership or being an inspiration to the rest of the class. And they take a ‘pledge of character.’”

Though the program only started at the beginning of the current school year, Doyle said he can already see what a difference it is making, and what a positive reaction the program is getting at the various schools he is working with.

Doyle said the fifth grade class of has already graduated from the Character Counts program. He is nearly finished with , and this week, he will begin at


For more information about the Character Counts program, contact Officer Mark Doyle of the Milpitas Police Department at 408-586-2526 or mdoyle@ci.milpitas.ca.gov.


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