Editor's note: This story is part of Southwest Michigan Second Wave's On the Ground Battle Creek series. It is written by On the Ground Community Correspondent Gabrielle Willis.
In today’s world, cops are often portrayed in a negative light, especially in communities of color. But there are officers who are working to be seen in a different light. In Battle Creek, these officers use the Police Athletic League (P.A.L for short) as a way to shine that bright light on the good they are doing. And no better place to shine than through an organization that is rooted in reaching out to its community — New Level Sports
The National P.A.L program
has been around for at least seven decades, but the chapter located in Battle Creek officially started this year. The opening of this chapter begins a new start for the Battle Creek Police Department. Kelly Dillman, the Community Outreach Liaison for BCPD, explains how P.A.L came to fruition.
“As a department, we are responsive to the needs of the community,” says Dillman. “A big part of our communities and future communities will include our youth. So in building that trust at an early age, studies have shown that if law enforcement can invest in the youth through sports and education, the youth will be more likely to respect the laws that police enforce. The partnership with New Level Sports to create NLS P.A.L. helps BCPD to reach the youth. We want to stand by our word of 'supporting and inspiring youth, on and off the field.'"
According to the P.A.L. website, "Studies have shown that if a young person engages and interacts with law enforcement on the ball field, gym or classroom, the youth will likely come to respect the laws that police officers enforce. Such respect is beneficial to the youth, the police officer, the neighborhood and the business community."
Supporting and inspiring youth is definitely among the objectives of the program. And that's what New Level Sports has been doing in the Battle Creek community since 2001.
“The three major pillars (of New Level Sports) are education, athletics, and personal growth,” says Marcus Austin, Program Manager of New Level Sports. “The objective of P.A.L is to bridge that gap between youth and police.
"Many youth have negative stereotypes of who police are and what they do. Either they’ve seen a family member arrested, or they hear negative things about the police. P.A.L gives kids the opportunity to get to know police officers personally. Doing personal growth activities together and helping with after school programs allow those relationships to grow.”
When asked about the perspective of P.A.L. through a police officer’s eyes, Dillman says, “We as a police department are very conscious of the challenges that many youth face today. With that, we concentrate on engaging youth in a positive way at an early age. The goal is to build that trust and, in return, we believe that it will help in the reduction of juvenile crime and violence.
"In building those relationships with youth through sports, mentoring will be a key component as well as. Officers will also serve as mentors. Many other resources will be available to the youth that include civic, enrichment, and educational opportunities to ultimately help in youth crime reduction.”
P.A.L not only changes the students' outlook of the police, but it also offers a chance to change the rest of the community's outlook on police. With more familiarity comes less fear and more trust.
But how does the fear become torn down and trust become built? By creating different activities and programs that kids can and do become interested in. New Level Sports has built that repertoire with students by offering football, basketball, and other activities for both kids and parents.
So what will P.A.L add to this? Here is a list of what they are bringing to the table:
• Bomb Squad visit to Robotics Team through NLS
• Community Fun Days (facilitated by NLS)
? Going to various apartment complexes, promoting Explorer Program
• BCPD facilitated Personal Growth Sessions for athletes of NLS
• Varies Topics-character, honesty
• NLS P.A.L. Youth Academy
• Learning laws specific to youth
• Gun safety
• Bike safety
• Fire safety
• Demos: drone, bomb squad, (ERT) emergency response team, and the smoke house, used to teach about fire safety.
“P.A.L. is still in the process of being fully implemented,” says Dillman. “(However), the P.A.L. Program is a major component to a larger initiative identified as the Be Safe Battle Creek Project. Through the BSBC Project, we are engaging many residents within the city in our targeted areas. So as we (BCPD) steadily build those relationships with residents through specific initiatives, NLS P.A.L. which offers a variety of sports to the youth, has proven helpful in aiding BCPD to connect with adults and youth through meaningful engagement.”
As the growth of P.A.L. through New Level Sports continues to develop, some are expressing how happy they are regarding what this partnership can mean for the community they serve.
“We (New Level Sports) are excited to be working with the police,” says Austin. “We’ve developed this partnership with them over the last two to three years. So we’re really excited now to move forward and to do more creative and exciting things with the police department.”
All photos by Gabrielle Willis