CLEARWATER, Fla. - Clearwater police and kids from the North Greenwood Recreation Center took to the gridiron on Friday night for some healthy competition.
The Clearwater Police Department held its first flag football game with children from the after-school program at the North Greenwood Recreation Center. The game is one of a number of events that are part of the department’s "Kids & Cops" series, organized by its community engagement officers.
Officers said they try to hold as many events, activities and opportunities for officers to interact with children outside their regular duties.
"You know it’s going to be competitive with other cops, because they’re going to try to beat you all, and they talk a lot, so you actually have to try to beat them," Ahmad Jackson Jr. said.
Jackson Jr. said this is his second event with officers.
"The more interaction we get to do or have with the kids, outside of calls for service, the better it is for everybody," said Lauren Josey-Filer, a community engagement officer with the Clearwater Police Department.
The flag football game is a stark contrast to how kids typically see officers, in their uniforms and patrol cars.
"Often, you know, we swoop in, lights and sirens," Clearwater Police Chief Eric Gandy said. "Someone goes to jail, and we’re off to the next call. There’s no time for positive interaction. It’s very transactional."
Gandy said a game of flag football levels the playing field for officers and kids. Many communities around the Tampa Bay area have called for more community engagement programs, especially involving children.
Law enforcement agencies around the Tampa Bay area have had discussions about bolstering the programs for children, in order to keep children away from violence and give them positive role models in their daily lives.
"I want them to understand that it’s not just always us coming out and making arrests," Josey-Filer said.
Officers said this game gives kids a constructive place to spend their Friday night, and a chance to see officers behind the badge.
"When they can humanize with us, make jokes, laugh, talk, when they see us on the road, they know that it’s not necessarily going to be a bad interaction," Josey-Filer said.
In between interceptions and touchdowns, the kids are learning more than plays on the field.
"When you get around people, you’ve got to act the same as if a cop was right there, and how you would act if your parents were right there too," Jackson Jr. said. "Have the same energy."
The wins go beyond what’s reflected on the scoreboard. CPD hopes these interactions become ones that kids remember. Officers want the kids to feel safe calling them in any situation.
"When you get a good bond with a cop, it actually gets more fun, and they actually want to have fun with you and be your friend," Jackson Jr. said.
The department’s community engagement officers work to coordinate events with children and the community on a regular basis.