RICHMOND, Va. -- The Richmond Police Department is taking a proactive approach to policing by getting at risk youth off the streets and on the field through the Richmond Police Athletic League or PAL.
“PAL is a program we kind of bridge the gap between the community and the Richmond Police Department,” said RPD Master Patrolman and Richmond PAL Director Perry Barber. “When you sign up to be a police officer it's because you love people and want to help people and that's the backbone of the Police Department and the backbone of the Richmond PAL.”
The nonprofit organization, established in 1982, reaches kids through sports. Enrollment is at its peak this year.
“We offer all kinds of activities for kids to do throughout the year to keep busy show them that police officers are normal people,” said, Barber.
Boushall Middle School sixth grader Mekhya Edwards-Benn is taking part in the Richmond PAL’s fall Lacrosse camp.
“I like that I have teammates and this is my first year of actually playing a sport,” said Mekhya. “It’s important because most kids don’t get to play sports a lot.”
Mekhya is one of more than a dozen kids taking part in the free program that her school resource officer helps coach.
“Me and her we get along a lot and every time I need help, I talk to her; she’s always there for me,” said Mekhya.
“Kids get to see police officers in a comfortable non-stressful setting and they start to know us trust us,” said School Resource Officer Trishonda Chasteen. “We build bonds they are able to talk to us have fun with us it’s great.”
“It's very important to get the kids when they are young, because you establish a relationship with them," said Master Patrolman Barber. "They get to know the police officer as a person and they’re not scared of the police."
“They’re police officers and that’s kind of cool it makes me feel sort of safer that if something went wrong around this area they could respond to it,” said, St. Christopher’s School 5th grader Hank Dykshorn. “Sometimes when people see police officers they sort of turn around and walk in the other direction but if they’re someone you are really close with like your coach then you might get to know them better and not be afraid of them anymore.” Dykshorn added. “Now they seem like normal people. I feel safer and they don’t seem as scary anymore.”
The children also get the opportunity to get to meet new friends while improving their game.
“Children need an outlet, they need something to do, they need to be focused on positive things getting them involved in sports keeps those idle hands busy and keeps them out of trouble,” said Officer Chasteen.
“It helps these kids stay off the street, stay out of trouble gives them something to do and have a good time,” said Master Patrolman Barber.
Two officers are dedicated to the program and others help coach when not on duty. Master Patrolman Barber has passed on three promotions to stay with the Richmond PAL.
“I love my job i love the feeling i get watching these kids grow,” said, Master Patrolman Barber.
The non profit is funded on grants and donations.
“It’s very expensive to run this league. Luckily for us, we have a lot of people who donate money equipment to help out with us so we can run this league effectively, “ said Master Patrolman Barber.