Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Jennings Students and Police Officers Shoot Hoops Together to Build Trust, Understanding

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Jennings Students and Police Officers Shoot Hoops Together to Build Trust, Understanding

Article excerpt

The story of why Brandon McCrary became a police officer begins when he was 6 years old.

A police officer in Berkeley pulled over his family as his dad was driving. McCrary says he watched as the officer pulled his dad out of the car without a reason and made him lie face-down on the ground. The officer didn't arrest his dad. Now 30, McCrary still winces when he talks about it.

It was incidents like that explained the strained relationship he remembers between officers and many north St. Louis County residents.

But when he went to school in Kirkwood, McCrary was surprised to see that people there loved their police. He decided he wanted to help bridge the gap in North County and went on to become a St. Louis County Police officer.

This summer, McCrary and other officers have been getting together with Jennings School District students to shoot hoops in a formerly vacant school building in hopes of further closing that community gap.

The program is under the auspices of the Police Athletic League, a volunteer-driven, donation-funded national group with local chapters. The chapter in North County started in the past year.

Parents and police say there are many reasons the program is needed, such as the children's need for positive things to do in their spare time, the fact that it's offered at no cost to parents and it's not far away, and the opportunity it offers to build trust and good faith between officers and the community.

"There's good police and there's bad police, you know what I'm saying?" said Matt Berry, 46, a Spanish Lake father involved with the league. "There's a whole lot more good than bad."

Shooting hoops together also gives mentorship to the kids, many of whom don't have father figures in their lives to teach them things like conflict resolution and anger management. At the very least, the kids get to see what police out of uniform look like and know that officers don't just arrest people and put them in jail.

"I see you as a human being, you see me as a human being, and not like a police-suspect, police-victim, whatever the case may be," said Officer Darrin Young, who runs the PAL chapter in North County.

Darren Sykes, 10, at first thought that, because the police were here, the basketball program was for "bad people. …

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