Jan 23

Afterschool & Law Enforcement: 3 recommendations for officers

The Afterschool Alliance is pleased to present this post as part of the Afterschool & Law Enforcement blog series. For more information on the ways afterschool programs are partnering with local police, check out our previous blogs on building relationships and trust, the motivations for partnerships, tools for working with school resource officers, and a Lights On Afterschool event that forged a new relationship with law enforcement.

Cops and kids come together to shoot hoops after school at the Police Athletic League.

In 2016, the Afterschool Alliance talked to police officers and afterschool programs about partnerships between law enforcement and afterschool. Throughout the process we learned that law enforcement can be an important and unique partner for afterschool programs. To help jumpstart new partnerships in communities across the country, the officers we spoke with offered advice for other officers and afterschool programs looking to collaborate.

Be passionate.

When choosing officers to get involved in this work, include those who are passionate about the mission. At the Burlington Police Department in Burlington, Iowa, officers are encouraged to be involved with PIECES, their local afterschool program, but not required. Major Darren Grimshaw, the officer in charge of community engagement, sends officers who want to be involved to the program while on duty. The department supports this initiative as a large facet of their community relations work. Some officers even work with the program when they are off duty.

Officer Jeff Hedtke, who runs the California Gang Resistance Intervention and Prevention program (CalGRIP) through the Corona Police Department, says the reason his program is successful is that his officers are sincere with the kids who participate. “If they don’t think you care, they won’t buy in,” he explained.

Consider stakeholder needs.

Officers, kids, parents, and the community are all affected by afterschool programs. Consider as many stakeholders’ needs as possible when designing a new program or programming. When the Child Center of New York at Basie Beacon IS 72 decided to invite police officers to their program, they worked together with their youth council to design the event to fit students’ needs.

Sergeant Ron Edwards, founder of the Youth Advisory Group (YAG) at the San Diego Sheriff’s Department, says the most important thing is to make it fun and to aim not to change a mindset, but instead to provide students with an alternative perspective to consider about who and what law enforcement is.

Officer Kenney Aguilar, a volunteer at the Santa Ana Police Athletic Academic League (PAAL), suggests creating a focus group to hear from the community and discover their needs and concerns. After a community group let Major Grimshaw know that kids were feeling intimidated by officers in uniform, officers began changing out of uniform when visiting community events or participating in the afterschool program. Officers participating in sports after school might wear a t-shirt and sweatpants, while others might wear a polo shirt and slacks to seem more approachable.

Don’t reinvent the wheel.

Whether you are a police department that wants to work with your local afterschool program, or an afterschool program that wants to get police involved, you aren’t alone. There are a number of successful afterschool and law enforcement partnerships around the U.S. that you can turn to for inspiration or direction. For example, check out our program spotlight on the New York City Police Athletic League, which reaches more than 40,000 students a year across the city’s five boroughs. In another program spotlight, we featured Major Grimshaw and the Burlington Police Department’s involvement with PIECES, examining the steps that led to the evolving partnership between the two groups. Inspiration and guidance from partnerships like these can help to avoid starting from scratch.

Stay tuned for more program spotlights on partnerships like the ones in NYC and Burlington to see how these collaborations are formed and sustained. Also, if you have a story that you want to share with the field, we want to hear from you! Email with the subject line: Afterschool & Law Enforcement Program Spotlight.