By Jon Caroulis
As a Philadelphia policeman and later, deputy commissioner, Kevin Bethel, 54, a 2008 graduate of Chestnut Hill College’s School of Continuing & Professional Studies (SCPS) and Mt. Airy resident until moving last month to North Wales, knew what he would not do:
“I didn’t become a police officer to arrest, fingerprint and put 10-year-old children in dimly lit holding cells,” says Bethel, who spent 29 years with the department before retiring in 2015. Children can be arrested for bringing something to school that could be construed as a weapon, such as a pair of scissors, he adds.
“Thousands of children, who are disproportionately African-American and Latino, are entering the criminal justice system through the school-to-prison pipeline because adolescent misbehavior is now an arrestable offense,” says Bethel. “Those arrests mean these children’s graduation rates, job prospects and mental health are at risk.”
Bethel knows the subject well. Before he retired, he founded the Philadelphia Police School Diversion Program (PPSDP) that provides counseling and support systems to help juveniles stay out of trouble instead of arresting them.
According to Bethel, in only two years of operation, the PPSDP program reduced arrests rates 54 percent in its first year and 64 percent in its second year; gained the approval of 80 percent of participating officers; and provided services to 90 percent of enrolled students in PPSDP and their families to help turn their lives around.
Bethel’s path was a winding one. A native of Southwest Philadelphia who graduated from John Bartram High School but then dropped out of college, he worked at various jobs until he entered the police department in 1986. He knew he needed a college degree to advance professionally, and he also wanted to set an example for his three daughters.
“I chose Chestnut Hill College for a variety of reasons,” he says. “It had done a great job — and still does —of creating a positive and inviting environment for Philadelphia police officers to attend. SCPS, under Dr. Elaine Green, was incredible in facilitating the application process and making the process virtually seamless.”
He also received credits for training at the police academy — another reason he chose CHC. The flexibility offered by SCPS, evening and Saturday classes in an accelerated program, helped him meet all his obligations, along with the support of his wife and family. “It was a challenge, but I made it my number one priority. The knowledge I acquired assisted me during my tenure with the police department and now in my retirement,” he says.
In 2015, Bethel was inducted into the College’s Libris Society, which honors alumni who live life by the school’s motto: Faith-Charity-Knowledge. The designation is the last line in his professional biography. “It’s a motto that I take great pride in trying to exemplify every day of my life,” he says.
“I will never forget Kevin Bethel as an officer and student,” says Sara Ellen Kitchen, J.D., professor of criminal justice. “He brought his high standards and professionalism to the classroom initially and now returns annually as a guest lecturer. His understanding of restorative justice is key for the field of criminal justice.”
And in 2016, Bethel took another step toward positively impacting young people when he became a fellow with the Stoneleigh Foundation, which seeks to improve the lives of vulnerable children and youth. His fellowship ends in January, 2018, and can be renewed. Regardless, working with young people will be his focus.
“My heart is in juvenile justice. Now is the time to destroy the school-to-prison pipeline. A second chance, not an arrest, is what they need,” he says. “Do we have the courage to give it to them?”
This article is reprinted here, with permission, from the Fall, 2017, issue of Chestnut Hill College Magazine.