Every year, the Pittsburgh police and CitiParks team up for the Cops & Kids Summer Camp to help city youths gain a positive perspective on police officers.
Given the reaction from some of the campers who attended the first weeklong session on the Duquesne University campus, the program is working.
“I came because I thought it would be fun,” said 10-year-old Dominique Hamlin. And there was lots of fun stuff. And I learned that police are not the bad guys. They are good people.”
The camp is designed to be both entertaining and educational. Its curriculum, facilitated by officers volunteering their time along with civilians, allows for hands-on interactions with law enforcement and other public safety personnel. It includes educational components designed for personal safety, anti-bullying and drug awareness; in addition to physical fitness and sport related activities.
James Lewis, age 12, said he was very impressed with the job firefighters perform, and was surprised to learn how many different police squad there are. He also had a lot of fun.
“I learned about gun safety, about the bomb squad and SWAT. And we toured Heinz Field went to the zoo, went swimming and today were going to funfest,” he said. “This is an awesome camp.”
Officer Angela Garrett, a 23-year veteran, said she has been with the program for three years and really enjoys it. She also said it is a critical component in building relationships between the police and, particularly, Black kids from troubled neighborhoods.
“This is extreme important because they are the first to have the misconceptions about the relationships they should have with police officers,” she said. “They need to know we are not here to harm but to help, and this is our way of letting them know we have a job to do—and sometimes it may look bad—but we’re not the bad people.”
Garrett said each year the camp is divided into three separate weeklong sessions, with 50-55 kids in each. This year the second session was held at the Community College of Allegheny County’s North Side campus, and the third–beginning July 28–will be held at the Schenley Park Ice Rink. The camp is entirely free for the participants.
“We do sports and field trips. We had the food bank here this week and the kids collected 70 pounds of food, so they learned about giving too,” said Garrett. “It’s a great way to have youth interact and change their perception of what police are, that it’s not something negative.”
Brooklyn Jones, a 7th grader from Greenfield, said she had fun and learned a lot.
“I wanted to get to know police and meet new people and have fun. We met the Riverhounds, we got to go to a lot of neat places,” she said.
“I learned to appreciate what I have. I didn’t know police officers liked to be around children that much and that they like to have a lot of fun too.”
(J.L. Martello contributed to this story.)
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