Spokane police have started a new pilot program to reach out to at-risk youths using a new tool: basketball.
The department's Youth Athletic League has off-duty officers coaching youngsters from low-income families on the basketball court.
The Spokane Police Department struck up a business deal with these 32 youngsters in the league: If they put in some time painting over graffiti under Interstate 90, in return the department would give them uniforms for their new basketball teams.
It's a lesson about working hard for something you want and it can never come too early in life. The kids, who range in age from 9 through 16, see the cops in their East Central neighborhood all the time, only on Tuesday the officers were in Liberty Park to have some fun and build some positive relationships.
"The only thing they've seen is when the Police Department came to arrest their dad or someone in their community. Now they're getting a chance to see police officers on a more friendly basis, get in the car with them, turn on the sirens, first name basis and now that's giving them more positive image of our police department," Pastor Shon Davis of Jesus Is The Answer Church said.
Davis, a former Los Angeles gang member turned pastor, hopes programs like the Youth Athletic League will help these kids resist gang recruitment.
"They target this age group, because they're juveniles so that they can sell their drugs or do other activities for them but eventually bring them up into the ranks again of the actual gangs and the violence also," he said.
For the next 10 weeks these youngsters will be coached and mentored by off-duty police officers, providing detectives and patrolmen to get to know the community they are serving and protecting.
"We get down the personal relationships versus it's a police officer in uniform relating to a kid with their jeans down around their legs. People; that's what this is about. People talking to each other," Spokane Police Chief Frank Straub said.
"I think that relationship building, officers getting to know the kids, kids getting to know the officers, we can build trust, we can build relationships and we can end those type of incidents," Straub added.
Spokane Athletic donated the uniforms to this new youth league, Walmart contributed some cash along with the Spokane Police Guild because the guild views the program as a very positive way to reduce crime.