The Tampa Police Department (TPD) has launched a new initiative called “Sharing Possibilities with Our Residents Through Sports” (S.P.O.R.T.S.) aimed at building relationships with children in the community. The department believes that it is crucial for kids to have strong mentors from a young age and wants children to look up to law enforcement and have positive interactions with them. In order to connect with kids, TPD is finding common ground through sports, recognizing the role that sports can play in fostering conversation and understanding among youth.
Deputy Chief Calvin Johnson, who spearheaded the initiative, believes in the power of sports to make a difference in a young person’s life. He recalls how sports played a significant role in shaping his own life and wants to provide children in the community with similar opportunities. The program began by surprising a 13-year-old girl, whose grandmother had expressed concern about her safety while riding her bike due to gun violence in the neighborhood. Johnson informed her of the new program, “Biking with the Chief,” and promised to ride bikes with her in her own neighborhood. This initiative goes beyond fulfilling wishes; it aims to make a lasting impact and break down barriers between law enforcement and the community.
Chief Johnson emphasizes that it is important for youth to understand that police officers were once young themselves, and through positive conversations, they can discuss behavior, expectations, and challenges in life. The goal is to meet children on their level, whether through playing basketball or going on a bike ride, and provide them with guidance that extends beyond the court and into their everyday lives. By consistently engaging with the community through sports, TPD hopes to build trust and bridge the gap between communities that distrust law enforcement and those that they are trying to establish relationships with. Additionally, TPD intends to expand the program to promote the Police Athletic League (PAL) and recruit at local high school sporting events, further enhancing their bond with the community.