For the past year we’ve watched in horror as police departments across the country have killed more than 700 people. While some of those deaths were undoubtedly justifiable, the relationship between communities across America remains strained.
After the 2014 Ferguson uprising, President Obama brought together activists, law enforcement officials, and politicians from across the country to take a look at how to improve policing across America. Many cities believe adding more police officers to high-crime areas is the answer, but in one Los Angeles neighborhood, officers are taking a different approach.
Community policing is often touted as the key to heal the rift between citizens and law enforcement officers, but in Watts, that idea goes far beyond just knowing the names of the cops walking the beat. This summer, a group of LAPD officers are coaching youth football and track for kids ages 8-12 who live in nearby housing projects, and the program is paying off.
The results? Kids are not only staying busy, but they’re also building positive relationships with police officers, and learning about life.
“They treat me like I’m one of their sons,” one young player on the Watts Bears football team told ABC News.
“People in the neighborhood always think officers are bad, but I think they’re wrong because our coaches are police officers,” said another player.
This year, Watts Bears players were required to attend summer school classes in which officers taught the boys valuable life lessons. Though resources in Watts are scare, this season the team is being sponsored by Nike and has a relationship with the University of Southern California, two vitally important entities that keep the program going. While winning is fun, officers hope the sports program will help kids make positive choices and avoid gangs.
“Our children do want to learn,” one officer-coach said. “We just have to give them the opportunity.”