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To improve relations, Syracuse launches Police Athletic League for kids

Ellen Abbott
WRVO Public Media
Jimmy Oliver speaks outside of Syracuse City Hall.

The City of Syracuse now has a Police Athletic League. Officials hope it fosters a better relationship between police and the youth of the community.

Mayor Ben Walsh said the time is right to start up something like this in Syracuse, noting relations between communities and law enforcement has been strained.

"The way you break down barriers and build relationships is by spending time with each other,” Walsh said. “And not at a point of crisis, which is typically when law enforcement officers engage with the community, but when we’re having fun."

The program that’ll start up this summer is affiliated with the Association of Police Athletic/Activities Leagues, a national organization, which also will provide some funding. Running it will be Jimmy Oliver, the Police Department’s director of community engagement.

"The sports piece is the carrot to get the kids in the door,” Oliver said. “Then we start setting them up with mentors, goals and job opportunities."

Oliver said relationships created on a sports field can translate into help for troubled families.

“That’s what it’s going to take, is having a hot dog, and saying, how’s school?” he said. “Or parents, how can I help you? How can I facilitate my son, who’s struggling? He plays football, and his dad’s passed away. What support is out there? Some parents have used all the tools in their toolbox.” 

The league kicks off this summer with programs in football, soccer, basketball and dance for kids ages 6-13. It will expand to other sports and activities for older kids as time goes on. Oliver expects ultimately, the program will reach 400 youth.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.