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T his type of partnership is beneficial for both the youth and law enforcement officials. “Afterschool programs provide a safe haven for children to focus on academics,” says Officer Kenney Aguilar of the Santa Ana Police Department. “These programs also keep kids off of the streets and away from the gangs that plague the neighborhoods.” 2 Collaboration can build mutual respect between youth and officers, while the officers serve as valuable role models for the young participants. By con- necting with youth in a positive and engaging setting, officers are able to better understand the community they are serving and change the narrative of interactions between the community and law enforcement. 3 STARTING SMALL The extent of law enforcement involvement with commu- nity afterschool programs can vary. Even the most simple of ges- tures—such as attending an event hosted by a local afterschool program—can make an impact in the way that youth view the role of law enforcement. Each year, around the country, millions of Americans rally around afterschool in celebration of the im- portant work these programs do for kids, families, and communi- ties by attending Lights On Afterschool events, which can consist of anything from a fun showcase of the day-to-day activities of the program to a more formal ceremony, attended by local politicians, stakeholders, and families (afterschoolalliance.org/ loaHistory.cfm). This year, the city of North Platte, Nebraska cel- ebrated Lights On Afterschool alongside local law enforcement at an event hosted by an afterschool program called Kids Klub. At the event, Mayor Dwight Livingston publicly recognized the im- portant efforts that both afterschool and law enforcement have made in supporting the community and keeping kids safe. 4 This one-time collaborative effort has the effect of marrying the two as partners in the public eye, as they work cohesively toward the goal of community safety, and providing the kids the opportunity to understand and contextualize the role of law enforcement. A more formalized or regular collaboration can have even greater benefits. In Omaha, Nebraska, in the spring of 2005, Omaha Police Gang Officer Antonio (Tony) Espejo started a program called PACE (Police Athletics for Community Engage- ment) , when he realized that arresting current gang members wasn’t addressing the main sources of the city’s juvenile crime issue: the lure for kids into the gang lifestyle and the idle time that kids had after school and during the summer months. PACE initially started with soccer—many of the youth in south Omaha were interested in soccer, but couldn’t afford the available pro- grams. PACE allowed kids free participation in sports with sup- portive coaches that served as mentors. Since its inception, the program has grown in both size and offerings, and now includes baseball, flag football, CrossFit, Christmas programs, and ACT preparation. In 2018, an estimated 4,000 kids participated—a far cry from the six original teams in 2005. PACE participants include kids from north and south Omaha, specifically from neighbor- hoods with higher crime rates. Omaha and metro area police officers run the program and coach all the teams, with the help of other volunteers from the community. The lessons learned and relationships built through PACE increase community engagement—specifically youth engagement—and empower kids with important resiliency skills, including perseverance, goal setting, responsibility, and teamwork. And I have seen this investment in kids building such skills make a clear difference in his community. Since PACE’s

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inception, officers have seen less graffiti and violent crime in areas where kids are involved in the program. Over the years, PACE alumni have come back to volunteer to coach other kids in their neighborhoods; some are in school, studying to join public service themselves, as police and fire professionals. This year the Omaha Police Department hired their first PACE alumni, who is now going through the police academy and coaches at PACE. Most kids first encounter police during some of the most difficult times of their lives, Deputy Chief Kanger reflects. Afterschool programs start the narrative earlier, in a positive fashion, and are the key for sustained success for our kids. “President Obama’s Task Force on 21st Century Policing em- phasized that building trust and legitimacy through community policing is a critical factor in reducing crime; afterschool programs aligned with police involvement are the blueprint for these great outcomes.” TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE SUMMER MONTHS Opportunities for partnerships do not end when schools let out for summer break — summer programs are in high demand with 73 percent of parents indicating that it is important for their children to have summer activities that help themmaintain academic skills and learn new things, making summer programs an equally valuable space for engagement. 5 Founded in 1984, Laramie River Valley Rendezvous in Colorado has worked with more than 1,200 youth from at-risk homes in Larimer County, providing them an outdoor adventure camp complete with ac- tivities such as hiking, white water rafting, horseback riding, and mountain biking. Each June, the program brings together camp- ers between the ages of 13 and 16 who come from single-parent, blended family, and foster homes for a week of adventure and fun facilitated by local police officers, firefighters, members of the Colorado National Guard, and other community volunteers. Supported by community donations, grants, and local fundrais- ing events, LRVR is able to provide this experience free of charge to its participants. 6 7 As one camper remarked, LRVR is “a place where a kid can be safe and have fun for at least one week a year.” Young people in the program value the dedication of law enforcement officials who have committed their time and energy to promoting the wellbeing of their community’s at-risk youth. In addition to creat- ing this safe space for young people to relax, explore, and build positive relationships with both their peers and members of the law enforcement community, studies have shown long-lasting impacts of participation. Evaluation results demonstrate an improvement in participants’ self-esteem, a reduction in teenage recidivism rates, and the promotion of positive views toward law enforcement. 8 BIG COMMITMENT YIELDS BIG RESULTS Afterschool programs have the opportunity to change the community narrative around and perception of the role of law enforcement, while also reducing juvenile crime rates and building youth resiliency skills. 9 One program looking to do that is DRAGG (Drag Racing Against Gangs and Graffiti) . Sergeants Charles Woodruff and Dan Shrub recognized through their work with the Oxnard Police Department the need for positive men- tors for youth in their community and decided to take action. It all started with a 2006 Mustang, decked out to look like the Oxnard patrol cars, which garnered the attention of high school continued on page 28


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