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Kansas City's PAL program bonds KCPD officers with youth

Posted at 6:26 AM, Sep 27, 2021

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Inside Police Athletic League, you'll quickly meet Isabel Rivera, who's been practicing her martial arts and boxing.

"I really like to work out," Rivera said.

She's one of several students who is a part of the Police Athletic League of Kansas City, also known as PAL.

"It's really helped me cause I was kinda not really into talking to people that much, but coming here has really has opened up a variety of meeting new people," student Dewayson Thomas said. "And finding out what I'm good at, too."

"It gives me an opportunity to socialize a little bit better," Rivera said.

KCPD officers work with children through coaching and mentorship programs.

It's a place Crispin Rea, an avid Muhammad Ali fan, knows all too well.

"For me, it provided a safe haven in a neighborhood where there are many many challenges," Rea said.

Now outside the ring, Rea serves as the Assistant Prosecuting Attorney - Special Victims Unit in Jackson County, and also serves on PAL's board, in the neighborhood he grew up in.

"This is a neighborhood that's predominately African American and Hispanic families," Rea said. "So any time you're able to create those opportunities where officers who serve that community are able to interact in a positive way, not only makes the neighborhood safer but learn from the families."

Whether it's pool, boxing or sharing a meal, the goal is building relationships.

"There's a lot of relationships that have been severed or have been broken and this is an opportunity to work and prepare those," PAL administrative Sgt. Skip Cox said. "We really can be the pinnacle for that change and bridging that gap."

Cox says PAL provides a lot not only for the students but the officers as well.

"It's hard not to be emotionally invested into the program when you get to see these kids on a daily basis," Cox said. "It's more than just a job."

Due to COVID, those relationships not only focused on its students but expanded to their families.

"We've had to adapt just like everybody. We know we're really the epicenter for their change, for our kids' change," Cox said. "We've had countless food banks out here. And knowing that is still a challenge that our families are going through, is why we're here for them."

Homework help and WiFi access are also available to students.

Rea says programs and centers like PAL create a stronger bond between police and children in our community.

"We're at an interesting moment where so much is happening in the world with the criminal justice," Rea said. "And the relationship between communities of law enforcement and communities of color is so strained. PAL is part of that solution and building that trust."

On a monthly basis, there are PAL officers who make roughly 1,300 contacts with kids.

It's also a detailed process for KCPD officers working at PAL, which is their full-time job.

"It's a panel interview. We ask questions about what they know about the program. They have to do job shadowing," Cox said. "It is a special assignment and it takes a special tolerance and patience to be able to work with kids, so we want to make sure they know what they're getting into."

Right now PAL has a captain, two sergeants and four officers who work at PAL.

For more information on PAL's programs, visit the program's website.