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Supporting Youth-Driven, Safe Communities with the Arlington Police Foundation

By S. Mathur

Taking police-community relations to a higher level, the Arlington Police Foundation "was created in 2003 as a nonprofit charity to help fund equipment needs and projects of the Arlington Police Department that are not handled by the city budget," says Rudy Martinez, Chair of the Foundation's Board of Directors. "The foundation was also set up to help if needed due to an officer injury or loss of life."

"For example, a few years ago, one of our officers was shot while issuing a warrant; an artery was struck, and it immediately became a critical situation. Quick thinking on the part of an accompanying officer to use a belt as a tourniquet saved our officer's life. A citizen heard the news story, and, through the foundation, that donation and others were used to purchase personal trauma kits for every patrol officer. The kits are now carried in their vests when officers are out on the street."

Officer volunteers teamed up for a 3-on-3 challenge basketball game with local teens at The Rec, an afterschool program that allows high school students a safe place to gather in the afternoons.

As well as resources for police officers and K9s, the Arlington Police Foundation sponsors youth programs to bring kids and police together in positive ways. Martinez says that "...the earlier that youngsters can be involved with police on a personal and positive level, the stronger their belief as they get older that police are here to help and that they're the ones to go to in times of trouble. PAL Camp is one example of officers interacting with kids in positive and unexpected ways. PAL campers will see these officers again in the fall on their own school campus, and the relationships that are made in the summer can carry over into high school."

The PAL camp encourages students to see police officers as mentors, says Martinez: "Students view these officers in new roles- as mentors and positive adults they can look up to. They'll already know their names, and, more importantly, they'll know that their school officers are people who can be counted on for help and advice.

PAL (Police Athletic League) Camp students completing a ropes course with school resource officers

For example, bullying can be a huge problem for some students, but what a confidence booster to a student to know the school officer personally in the event that help is needed!" The week-long summer camp is both tough and educational, with activities that include games, CPR training and a team work ropes course.

Another youth program that has worked out well is The Rec, an after school program that gives high school students a safe place to hang out. Martinez says, "Before The Rec started, there was no safe place for students to meet up with their friends after the school let out. They'd hang out in the parking lot of a nearby store which was not the best place for groups of young people to congregate. With the combined efforts of police, the high school's administration, and a neighborhood church, the students now gather in the church's gym for basketball, games, snacks, and even some tutoring help from volunteers at the church."

The Rec gives students a chance to hang out with officers, and has led to a drastic reduction in youth-related report calls to police.

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