Return of the Police Athletic League – Something good happened in Erie, 7/17/2020

Erie Police Sgt. Tom Lenox brings the heat during a raucous game of kickball. | Photo via Jack Hanrahan, Erie Times-News.

Without further ado, your Idiotville feel-good stories of the week:

Especially on the topic of law enforcement, we’re all in need of some good news to ease the tension. In general, I find the terms “pro cop” or “anti cop” to be reductive to the point of meaningless, but those terms are typically what you see thrown around on social media. I consider myself generally “pro cop” in that I know police officers personally that I believe to be good people, and I have called the police occasionally in my lifetime and found them almost always to be fair and decent.

I’ve also seen exceptions. I’ve heard cops utter racial slurs. I’ve seen them engage in the kind of gratuitous physical violence we’ve all become familiar with on YouTube, though thankfully not as severe. To those cops and to that behavior specifically, I consider myself very much “anti.” I expect citizens to follow the rules, and doubly so for the cops charged with upholding those rules.

My take on cops is that they’re people – generally good but never perfect, and prone to falling in line with the prevailing culture of their workplace. People are mostly good. Some people suck.

I believe that almost always, cops choose their profession out of a sense of duty and honor. They want to help. Over time, though, the repetitive disappointment that comes from dealing with the worst of humanity for a living wears you down. You gain experience, and you begin making these subconscious assumptions. None of this is an excuse for bad policing, but I always think it’s helpful to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. To be a cop is to carry a heavy burden.

How refreshing, then, to be reminded of the very real good that a police force can provide a community. The link at the top of the post is an update on a great initiative from the Erie Police Department: the Police Athletic League.

If you’ve never heard of it, it’s basically an intramural sports league run by the police force for the benefit of local kids. They get together and play kickball and tag and whatever else kids play, and they leave with a reinforced perception of cops as friends or at least safe people to call when you’re in need.

For communities that haven’t always grown up having positive interactions with police, this program builds a necessary foundation of trust. In Erie, the Police Athletic League has been running for four years. This spring it shut down like so many other activities due to the coronavirus. For the kids looking forward to an after school activity (not to mention the school day itself), this was a big loss.

So I was glad to hear that just a couple weeks ago, the league started up again. They’re outside where the risk of spreading the disease is substantially lower, and the benefit you get from breathing in fresh air during some heated competition is good for the soul. In addition to the league’s usual reach, they will be expanding a bit.

They’ll add three more elementary schools to the list (depending on what kind of school year we wind up having this fall) including JoAnna Connell, Grover Cleveland, and Perry schools, and they’ll add activities such as fishing and summer camp beginning in 2021.

While what we see in the headlines is but a snapshot in time, Erie’s Police Athletic League has been doing the hard work behind the scenes to build a foundation of trust between a community and its officers. This work may take time to bear fruit, but if the reviews so far are any indication, dividends will come. The continuation and expansion of this initiative to bridge a historical gap is something good for our town.

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