Finding good pals in PAL
Police, youth engage in camp activities to deter criminal activity
Looking to engage children and law enforcement in positive forms of interaction and discourage youth from engaging in drugs or other criminal activity, the Prince George’s County Police Department formed a police athletic/ activities league and hosted several camps in July.
The National Association of Police Athletic/Activities Leagues (PAL) Inc. exists to prevent juvenile crime and violence by providing civic, athletic, recreational and educational opportunities and resources to PAL Chapters. The PAL program, according to the association’s website, brings youth under the supervision and positive influence of a law enforcement agency and expands public awareness about the role of a police officer and the reinforcement of the responsible values and attitudes instilled in young people by their parents.
“The mission of PAL is juvenile crime prevention,” Prince George’s County Police Department Cpl. Kurt Schnitzenbaumer said in a phone interview. “We’re about preventing kids from getting on drugs, joining gangs and to also bridge the gaps between law enforcement and our youth.”
Schnitzenbaumer is the department’s PAL coordinator who has been assigned to the community services division for the past three years. Over the last year, he worked on several programs including founding the Prince George’s County Police Athletic League Inc. — which was established earlier this year as its own nonprofit organization — and the Badges for Baseball program.
As the sitting executive director of the organization, Schnitzenbaumer said PAL is about forming relationships and encouraging youth to trust law enforcement officials.
“We want them to run to us, not from us,” he said. “We’re also about not just meeting with the youth, but mentoring them and teaching them life skills and life lessons that they can use now and will be able to use throughout their entire life.”
Prevention strategies that help youth to understand the impact of and take responsibility for their actions and that demonstrate ways to handle problems without resorting to violence can be highly effective. Researchers have found that an effective strategy is one that includes young people as a resource and provides legitimate activities and opportunities for them, according to PAL’s national website.
Youth-focused programs like PAL demonstrate that communities must address the culture of violence and lack of opportunity and alternatives, reach out to youth who feel disenfranchised from the adult world and provide them with positive opportunities. Studies have shown that if youth respect police officers — on the ball field, gym or classroom — they will likely come to respect the laws that those officers enforce. Such respect is beneficial for youth, the officers, their neighborhood and the business community, the report noted.
“Within PAL, we have many programs. We have particular programs that run for an entire week and programs that run the entire school year,” Schnitzenbaumer said. “We use sports and activities to teach these lessons.”
When it comes to using sports and activities, Schnitzenbaumer said this year’s PAL program served youth, ages 11 to 14, in the southern area of Prince George’s County. The program offered three different camps which included a summer baseball camp hosted out of Greenbelt Middle School from July 18 to July 22, as well as two week-long sessions of leadership and life camp that ran from July 11 to July 15 and July 25 to July 29 at Mt. Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton.
Schnitzenbaumer said parents had to pay a registration fee for the leadership and life camp which included field trips, admission to theme parks, team-building activities, snacks and guest speakers.
“We always try to form some sort of educational aspect into it but yet, still make it fun,” Schnitzenbaumer said. “We’ll bring in entrepreneurs and other businesses to talk to the kids about leadership skills, how to conduct themselves if they were to go into the interview process. Those are some of the leadership aspects that we want to bring into it.”
For 12-year-old Hakim Perry, he said the leadership and life camp taught him how to talk to people, respect the police and listen to what they say.
“I would bring my friends here so they can become better leaders,” Perry said. “They also teach us lessons about how to behave in public and not to be disrespectful to people.”
The baseball camp, offered at no cost, was founded by Schnitzenbaumer three years ago. Funding for the entire camp comes through grants and sponsorships from local businesses and community partners, including the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation which provides most of the materials and training, he said.
This year, about 48 kids participated in the baseball camp. They were not only provided with a backpack, hat, baseball glove, T-shirt, water bottle, but also served lunch everyday.
Schnitzenbaumer said the kids learned the responsible way of handling a stressful situation without resorting to violence. Most of them who came in with anger issues made a complete turnaround and even learned how to control their anger.
After the baseball camp ended, Schnitzenbaumer’s email was flooded with letters from parents saying “thank you.” He said he truly feels blessed to have an opportunity to work with youth and make a difference in their lives.
“That whole aspect of wanting to teach and help others never really left me,” he said. “Some of these kids have looked up at me as a father figure and they start opening up to me about some of the troubles that are going on with them. … They don’t realize that that also means the world to me, knowing how much I have made an impact in [his or her] life. It’s awesome. … I want to help as many kids as possible. There are a lot more kids who need to be in this type of program who don’t have anything.”
“I learned more than I expected,” said 14-yearold Pablo Portillo, a rising freshman who will attend Eleanor Roosevelt High School this fall. “They can teach you that you have potential in yourself to do better.”
Although he wasn’t sure if he was going to learn anything, Jaren Partman, also 14, said Schnitzenbaumer and the other officers made the PAL program a positive experience.
“A lot of the police shootings and things have kids worried about police officers. But if you bring them here, the police officers are nice, calm and not to be scared of. They just tell you that they are your friends and are here to help,” said Partman, a rising freshman who will attend Dr. Henry A. Wise High School. “The leadership camp helps you to overcome your fears and accomplish new goals. It’s a lot of fun.”
Prince George’s County Police Department Cpl. Edward Martin and Cpl. Jaron Black lead a trading places seminar July 28 during session 2 of the department’s Police Athletic League (PAL) Leadership and Life Camp at Mt. Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton.