Shooting hoops with kids participating in the county’s afterschool programs. Setting a positive influence in the community. Aiming to be a listening ear. In the process, possibly enhance police/community relations?
This is what Patrol Officer Corey Clark set out to do this school year and presented an idea to his Mount Vernon Station Commander, Captain Shawn Martin. He proposed that day and evening shift officers be permitted to spend an hour of their shift participating in afterschool programs at Walt Whitman Middle School, just across the street.
The captain wholeheartedly supported Officer Clark’s proposal, “This is an excellent opportunity to engage kids in a social setting that just may change their perception of police officers.” So, when their schedule permits, Officer Clark and a handful of Mount Vernon officers go to the middle school, where nearly 300 students stay after, play basketball or flag football for a couple hours and just have fun.
“In light of everything these days, I’m delighted to see police take a fresh approach to policing and meet kids where they are having fun rather than come across them later in a different capacity,” says Saundra Perry, the Afterschool Program Coordinator.
Perry has been the program coordinator for about four years and with the county for 25. She added, “Officer Corey—as the kids call him—is a Godsend,” and she hopes that he will stay as long as possible.
Bateman Jones, a Neighborhood and Community Services Recreation Leader, leads the sports activities and said he’s used to seeing military personnel volunteer. He added, “I’m happy to see the police department get involved and they [the officers] just jump right into whatever sport they’re playing.” Jones remarked that most of the kids don’t even realize Clark and his coworkers are officers and surprised when they later find out.
The officers certainly don’t try to hide who they are. In fact, Clark often wears his police recruit T-shirt with the Criminal Justice Academy logo on the front and his last name printed on the back. A couple of 8th grade boys said, “Officer Clark is cool and he’s good at football.” One of them recalled Clark was the reason he lost in a recent game: Clark was on the opposing team!
When Officer Clark was in college, he participated in afterschool programs for part-time work with his fraternity brothers. It was a good way to volunteer in his community and make a little extra money. Now, he hopes the reward will be smoother interactions and more cooperation between police and residents. He hopes that getting to know police on a more social, individual level will build trust among the community over time, especially among youth.
Ms. Perry believes with middle school now releasing at 2:30 p.m., afterschool programs are more important than ever and she hopes to see more officers, both men and women, volunteering soon. There are a variety of classes in which any officer can participate such as etiquette classes, robotics, academic courses, art and their most popular class: cake decorating.