Game Changer, a nonprofit organization founded in 2016, aims to IMPROVE perceptions among police and community members.
Started by founder and Georgetown University psychology graduate Sean Sheppard, the organization aims to provide community members the opportunity to sit down with police and let both sides discuss their feelings and whatever concerns they may have.
Sheppard, a Southern California native and African American, explained his motivation behind the program as wanting to improve relationships between police and the colored community, and to help both parties understand one another better.
The guilty verdict of Derek Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd recently brought the organization’s efforts to the forefront. In a climate where many African Americans see the police as the enemy, organizations that humanize both sides are extremely important.
The organization has so far cooperated with schools, churches, non-profits, and probation departments to reel in members of the community.
“We bring in youth who believe the police are their mortal enemy. After spending three hours talking and then hanging out at a game, participants find themselves enjoying each other’s company – like friends would do.” Sheppard says. “Officers participate in plain clothes. If you can’t tell who’s law enforcement and who isn’t, it’s because we’re all human.”
Sheppard was able to bring in law enforcement with the help of San Diego Chief of Police Shelley Zimmerman. According to her, Sheppard initially proposed what would serve as the model for the organization’s format.
She wrote in a San Diego Union Tribune article, “He wanted my opinion about an idea he had called Game Changer, bringing community members and police officers together to talk through issues and devise solutions.” She continued, “He envisioned a moderated focus group of no more than 20 people. Immediately after the group session, everyone would attend a sporting event together. There would be a pre- and post-event questionnaire to help measure results.”
Zimmerman was instrumental in bringing members of law enforcement into the fold, including current and retired law enforcement officers, elected officials, and judges.
“Most police officers are good and decent people who get into the profession for the right reasons,” Zimmerman told me. “They have compassion and integrity, and they want to make a positive difference. Every police officer, association, department that I called to ask if they would participate in Game Changer said they were all-in.”
Meetings consist of serious and passionate discussions that are often difficult for both parties involved. The goal is to find common ground and solutions to problems, and to understand each other’s perspective. After the meeting concludes, the group attends a collegiate or professional sporting event together to further break down barriers.
Game Changer has hosted over 1,500 participants since 2016, and virtually since the pandemic began. Police departments in California – in Fullerton, Chula Vista, Coronado and Long Beach — as well as a few in Virginia, Maryland, Ohio and Texas have also participated.