The Tampa, Florida, Police Department is on a mission to strengthen and create lasting relationships with youth in the community through a new initiative called Sharing Possibilities With Our Residents Through Sports (SPORTS).
Deputy Chief Calvin Johnson, who leads the initiative, addressed the importance of providing young individuals with strong mentors from an early age.
“When I was young, if it wasn’t for sports, I wouldn’t be here today,” he stated. “That’s what causes the youth to talk to each other. Find out how their lives are.”
The program kicked off on September 8 at Springhill Park with a heartwarming gesture from Tampa police officers, who surprised a 13-year-old girl with a bicycle after her grandmother spoke at a town hall meeting about her granddaughter’s love for biking.
Johnson then revealed plans for “Biking With the Chief,” an initiative that will take officers into neighborhoods to ride bikes with local children.
According to Johnson, the use of small gestures to break down larger barriers between law enforcement and the community it serves is what makes the program special.
It also helps humanize officers.
“We let the youth know that we were young one time also,” Johnson explained. “And we have those good conversations about behavior, what to expect, the challenges, [and] how to get over the bad humps in life.”
The program also strives to meet children on their terms, whether through bonding on the basketball court or through a leisurely bike ride.
According to police, the ultimate goal is to provide guidance that transcends the sports arena and remains with these young individuals throughout their lives.
Johnson elaborated on the broader mission.
“Seeing us every day on bikes and on foot, it’s going to cause the whole situation between the communities that don’t trust us and the ones we’re trying to get to trust us, to bridge that gap a lot faster,” he stated.
If successful, the department plans to expand the SPORTS initiative by launching recruitment efforts at local high school sporting events in combination with the Police Athletic League (PAL) program.