The Colorado Springs Police Department (CSPD) is turning to sports to bond with kids in a growing community policing program.
The department’s Play COS program, which launched in 2021, brings officers and youth together at schools, community centers and parks to play sports like dodgeball, kickball and basketball.
The CSPD said the goal of the program is to improve community relations through sports.
“Improve police-community relations. Play COS does just that as it allows our community to interact with officers in an organic, simple and fun way. Nothing too serious, just officers and community members having a positive interaction. We are most proud of the fact that Play COS crosses social, economic, racial and ethnic boundaries. We do not have to speak the same language or come from the same background, to find connections through sports. The barriers we have seen broken down within our community are inspiring,” the police department stated in 2022.
According to Colorado Springs city, PlayCOS has hosted 73 events, donated to 21 schools and three community centers, and has created more than 28,000 positive police/community interactions since its inception.
Most recently, CSPD officers unexpectedly arrived at a kids’ soccer game and handed out free soccer balls as part of the program’s annual ball giveaway.
For the past few years, police have partnered with SCHEELS Sporting Goods to give away free soccer balls.
“How the program started was [CSPD Community Relations] Sergeant Newton looked at: ‘What are ways we can better look at connecting with our community?’” Officer Daniel Short, a fellow member of CSPD’s Community Relations Department said. “How can we have more positive contacts with our community? And one of the best ways is sports. If you look at any team, it’s completely diverse. You have kids that in a normal school setting might not ever talk to each other. But when they join a sports team, there’s a common ground.”
“Sports just kind of breaks it through,” Short continued. “When a kid is allowed to throw a dodgeball at an officer, it completely breaks any barriers and allows us to have fun and talk and have real conversations. We’re talking to third-, fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders, eighth-graders and high schoolers, so whatever it is, we allow them to just have a conversation with us.”
Short said officers play with kids for around 35 to 40 minutes and then have an informal Q&A session for around a half hour to allow students to ask police officers questions about anything they want.
“We have it informal, so anything from what’s your favorite donut to social justice questions, or things that they’ve seen on media, whether it’s our agency or elsewhere. And we allow them to break that barrier, to have a conversation about whatever it is they want to know,” Short said.
CSPD community relations officers always have a ball handy in case they need to strike up an impromptu game.
“Every officer has a sports ball in the trunk of their car. That just allows them when they’re going from call to call, whenever they have that break from paperwork and admin stuff and they come to one of these parks or they’re even in the street and see a kid shooting a basketball around, throwing a football around, the officer can go and ask if they want to join. And whether it’s two minutes of throwing around or a 20-minute conversation with them and having fun, then afterward, the officer is able to give that sports ball to the kid, and then they can come back to one of the four substations and refill and then do it all again,” Short explained.
Short said citizens in the community have even donated their own new sports balls to the program.
During the ball giveaway, police managed to get hundreds of kids to sign up for the city’s youth soccer league as well.
Police say the giveaway lasts a week, during which time they plan to hand out 1,500 soccer balls to kids in the community.
“We’ve given every kid a brand-new soccer ball. So that allows the coaches to better facilitate their practices, so that makes sure every kid has a soccer ball when they’re doing drills for dribbling and different things of shooting and stuff like that. This allows them to each have one and be able to take home,” Short said.
The CSPD has also been recognized for their community policing efforts by the wider community in recent years.
In 2022, the department won the Walmart Leadership in Community Policing Award for their Play COS programs.
“Everyone at the CSPD is proud to be honored with this award. With that said, Play COS is not just a CSPD program. This is a community program that we have the privilege of running. Play COS would not have been possible without generous donations from large corporations, small local businesses and individual community members who all want to make our community a better place. We are all incredibly thankful and humbled to bring this community program to life,” Chief Adrian Vasquez said at the awards ceremony during the International Association of Chiefs of Police Conference last year.
Sergeant Jason Newton, who helped found the program, has witnessed its impact over the past few years not just for kids, but for officers too.
“This is exactly how 8-year-olds should be meeting police officers – on a soccer field, kicking a ball around,” Sgt. Newton said. “It’s been awesome to see the smiles on these kids’ faces when we visit a practice site. What the kids might not realize, though, is the immensely positive impact they’re having on the visiting officer. It’s so beneficial for these officers to have these positive experiences out in our community.”