Building a Dialogue Between Teens and the Police – By Tony Thomas

road dawgs manassas park 2015
Manassas Park teens with the Manassas Park Police in DC in 2015
Manassas Park teens with the Manassas Park Police for Road Dawgs in DC in 2015

This summer has reinforced what we already know – that policing is hard. Undoubtedly working in law enforcement is one of the most difficult jobs that anyone can take on. It takes special men and women to vow to protect complete strangers. The dangers that officers have been put through seems like it has been covered daily due to issues over the past couple of years in Ferguson, New York City, Cleveland, Baltimore, and most recently Baton Rouge, and Dallas.

The issues in each city has led to distrust between the community and local police departments. The distrust has often times led to protests and unfortunately violence at times. Violence is never acceptable, nor appropriate. There is no doubt that change needs to happen. Relationships between police and the community, especially in urban areas is at a real low point. I often hear kids as young as 8, tell me that they don’t trust or like the police. That’s a problem! What could make a young kid distrust someone that they don’t even know – especially someone that is supposed to protect them. Many of our area youth see what is broadcast on the news and social media every day, and they begin to form an early opinion about who they can and cannot trust.

This has to change!

In Manassas Park we are doing our part to change the narrative and perspective that our youth have in regards to law enforcement officers. We want our youth to look at law enforcement officers as role models, protectors, and friends. Since March, Parks and Recreation has taken steps to bridge the gap between teens and police. We recently implemented a 12-week program called ‘Badges for Baseball’. It was a partnership developed with Parks and Recreation and the Prince William County Sheriff’s Office.  The nationwide program was developed by the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation and aims to bring teens and police together through sports. Although the title of the program has the word baseball in it, the curriculum allowed for us to use any sport that fits our demographic, so we played flag football, basketball, and soccer.

Manassas Park teens participating in badges for baseball at a Potomac Nationals game
Manassas Park teens participating in badges for baseball at a Potomac Nationals game

This program was absolutely free! Each session started off with a roundtable discussion about a positive life skill. It was moderated by two Sheriff Officers and Parks and Recreation leaders. The open dialogue allowed for positive relationships to be built between the teens and officers. We concluded the program with a joint trip with the Boys and Girls Club and the City of Manassas Police Department to attend a Potomac Nationals game. Seeing this experience firsthand showed me that there is hope for the future and trust can be built between the youth and the police. It all starts with a conversation and a willingness to listen to the other side. After the program, the teens walked away with a greater respect and understanding of what officers do, and the officers walked away with a better understanding of how to relate to the issues that today’s youth face.

Another program that we have coming up is our Road Dawgs Camp. We host this camp in conjunction with the Manassas Park Police Department. Once again the goal and idea of this camp is to cultivate positive relationships and show the youth that the police are in fact on your side. This week long camp will provide participants with experiences that they will remember for the rest of their life.

Both the Badges for Baseball Program, and Road Dawgs Camp, although different, serve the same purpose – to help our youth understand the work that law enforcement goes through. Although we may not be able to change what is happening in other cities throughout our country; Manassas Park is committed to at least doing our part to help bring the two sides together for common good and start the positive change right here at home.

Tony Thomas is the Recreation Services Supervisor for the City of Manassas Park Department of Parks and Recreation. He can be reached at 703.335.8872 x3926 or via email at t.thomas@manassasparkva.gov.

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  • Janet Thomas
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    Excellent article!

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