Austin police say they know there’s a problem, so they’re working to connect with young people. To do so, one group of officers is dedicating Friday nights to bond through basketball.
“I thought it’d be easy. It’s kind of tough,” laughed 18-year-old Christian Alvarado, when asked about playing in a tournament with APD officers. “They’re actually pretty good at hooping it. They’re old, but really good.”
Dozens of Austin police officers host what they call the “Four on Four in the 44” tournaments almost monthly at the Dove Springs Recreation Center in southeast Austin. On each team is one officer and three kids.
“We want to have an opportunity to come together and sweat it out a little bit and have some good, healthy competition,” said Senior Austin Police Officer Rosie Perez.
And through that competition, Officer Perez says, officers are building relationships with kids who live on the streets they patrol.
“It’s important for kids to know and meet people and be encouraged to do things that are positive,” Perez said. “They’re respected, and we’re respected, and it comes from a place of, ‘We’re just here to support you. We want you to do well.'”
Perez says kids in the area look forward to the games, and it helps keep them out of trouble.
“We focus on certain times of the day to help us target times where kids are more likely to make bad choices,” she said. “So Friday nights, kids don’t typically have something to do, especially if it’s not in season, basketball season’s over. We want to give them a positive outlet.”
Officer Perez says they started the tournaments at Dove Springs Recreation Center because it’s the same neighborhood in which she grew up.
“Dove Springs Rec, growing up for me as a kid, was not a place that we could come,” she said. “Our parents didn’t allow us to come here. There were a lot of safety issues and concerns. This rec has turned it around, the kids and the community have worked hard, and the officers are working hard in the area.”
Kids say officers’ work in trying to create relationships is noticeable.
“Nowadays, you don’t see a lot of kids talk to cops, so it’s getting the kids and the cops a better relationship,” said high school student Kristopher Burnside. “So if we see each other on the streets or just around town, then they’ll be like, ‘Hey I know him.'”
Perez agrees, saying since starting the tournaments about a year ago, officers have begun recognizing the students they play without and about. They’ve been able to step in and help them with problems they may have otherwise never known about.
“We know and recognize faces, and sometimes, now that we’ve had these engaging games and stuff, if we see them here at the rec and one of the rec staff says, ‘Hey, this kid’s having problems.’ We can have those conversations.”
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