Find­ing good pals in PAL

Po­lice, youth en­gage in camp ac­tiv­i­ties to de­ter crim­i­nal ac­tiv­ity

The Enquire-Gazette - - Front Page - By JOHNATHON CLINKSCALES jclinkscales@somd­news.com

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.”

STAFF PHOTO BY JOHNATHON CLINKSCALES

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.

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