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KCPD hopes PAL program connects community, creates bonds
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – On most school nights, you can hear the same sounds echoing in a gym off White Avenue.
Boxing gloves hitting a punching bag. Feet shuffling on mats.
The voice of Kansas City Police Officer Shawnie Nix.
"One two, two. You're supposed to duck!" she laughs and tells a little boy during a drill.
Nix is among the five officers, two sergeants and captain that make up the Kansas City Police Athletic League.
"I mean I think anything you do in life is really about building positive relationships, and the epicenter of that is really PAL," KCPD Sgt. Skip Cox said.
Police athletic leagues aren’t a new concept – there’s already 300 of them across the country.
But the one here in Kansas City, which started in 1998, has become a model for the nation.
KCPD's PAL program serves up to 1,000 kids each year. With help of volunteer coaches from the community, students can participate in archery, baseball, cheerleading, running club and other sports. They can also get help with homework and use the league's computer lab to complete assignments or research potential careers.
“Having the police officers part of this program helps to bridge that gap that we really struggle with in our communities,” Sgt. Skip Cox, PAL's Projects and Financial Supervisor, explained.
The hope is that children and their families forge bonds with officers, breaking down barriers and building up trust.
"A lot of these kids see the police only when there's a big problem or there's a situation where someone's being arrested. In many cases they don't think at all to call the police," PAL Board Co-President Joe LaMothe said.
When 20-year-old Deyanira Gudino first came to PAL eight years ago, she was intimidated. Her parents, immigrants from Mexico, were wary of police.
"They had a different image of police officers before we started interacting with them. Once I started getting to know them, my parents started getting to know them, and we started inviting them to family events," said Gudino.
She became especially close with Officer Shawnie Nix, who specializes in boxing. Nix has a strict rule: you're not allowed in the ring if you don't keep up your grades.
“She made us learn that it was a privilege to have this sport, to have these activities, and that’s when I really started learning school is important,” Gudino said. “Obviously all these people care about my grades, so it must be for a reason.”
Gudino is now a junior in college. She's the first person in her family to go beyond 6th grade.
Her path is something officers in KCPD’s PAL hope is the standard.
“It validates what we do, and that kind of re-energizes the mission,” said Cox.
It also shows kids that police work can be a great career.
“Now my goal is to become a police officer,” Gudino said. “My dream job is really to come back to PAL and be a PAL officer and be a role model exactly like these officers are to me now.”
Kansas City’s PAL runs completely off donations – both financial but also volunteers contributing time and talent.