CONTACT – Betsy Stein
University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) has launched a Police Athletics/Activities League (PAL) program for children in West Baltimore. It is one of just two PAL programs in the U.S. currently offered at a university.
PAL is a national program that works to promote the prevention of juvenile crime and violence by building relationships among kids, cops, and community through positive engagement.
“It’s an innovative approach to not only connect law enforcement to the community, but also to stress the importance of higher education to these kids,” said Jeff Hood, executive director of National PAL. “I think it’s a very good idea.”
The UMB PAL program launched Feb. 1, 2018 and is being held at the UMB Community Engagement Center in West Baltimore. Members of the UMB Police Force are leading the program.
“Many youths will benefit from the existence of the PAL program and I am happy that our campus police officers will be participating in this wonderful program,” said UMBPF Chief Martinez Quteaz Davenport, Sr., MS. Davenport saw the benefits of PAL when he was with the Baltimore City Police Department in the 1990s before it was cut in 2009. “Officers and youths had created a strong bond which broke down negative barriers between the police and the community,” he said.
UMB received $28,800 to launch the program, which will initially serve 32 students. PAL will meet two afternoons a week with 16 elementary students attending on Thursdays and 16 middle school students on Fridays. The grant will enhance already existing programming at the CEC, provide a set curriculum and allow it to continue year round.
Covering more than just athletics, PAL activities will include science experiments, physical fitness, career exploration, community service, visual arts, reading enrichment, and more. As part of their field placement, UMB's School of Nursing public health students lead activities for boys and girls on Thursdays. Outside partners will bring in programming and Saturday field trips will explore the city and beyond.
Kyle Locke, MS, philanthropy officer at UMB, spearheaded bringing the program to campus after heading up a similar program several years ago.
“Nowadays, anything our police force can do to connect with the community more is definitely needed,” Locke said. “One of the priorities of (UMB’s) president is community engagement. We want to try and bridge these gaps with good programs. … Young people need mentors and need to see other things outside their daily lives. This program gives them that opportunity.”
Cpl. Hazel Lewis, a 14-year veteran with the UMBPF, is leading the program along with Kelly Quinn, PhD, coordinator of the CEC. So far the program is off to a great start.
“I think this will build a great relationship between the entire community and the police department at UMB and hopefully police officers all over,” Lewis said. “I think we are breaking a lot of barriers right now.”