3Qs: Michael Russell, Police Athletic League director

By NEMS Daily Journal

As Tupelo officials mull a proposal to purchase and renovate the former Salvation Army gym for the Police Athletic League, PAL Director Michael Russell talks to the Daily Journal about the program.

Q: What’s the Police Athletic League Program?
A: It is Tupelo Police Department’s year-long youth program staffed by volunteer police officers and firemen who give kids exposure to fitness activities and form a positive relationship with them. It started in late 2005. We have about 220 kids in our summer group and about 60 in our after-school program. More than 2,000 kids have participated since the beginning. It’s open to Tupelo-area residents 7-18 years old, male and female. Our program is open to ALL Tupelo area youth. The service is provided by the Tupelo Police Department and the city of Tupelo. It’s a 501(c)3 nonprofit. Our budget runs about $80,000 per year with basically half of that going to facility costs which includes lease, utilities and maintenance. We were recognized at the Mississippi Municipal League in 2007 with “Best Overall Program,” which was a huge honor. The support of Chief Tony Carleton has truly strengthened our program, and we are busier than ever.

Q: Why is the PAL program important to the community?
A: We definitely offer a positive environment for the kids that participate in our program. And we create an opportunity that some of these kids might not ordinarily have had. Most of the kids who had participated in our camp this summer had never played disc golf, had never played golf, had never played lacrosse or tennis. It’s a wide spectrum of activities. And it’s completely free for the families. Eleven of 15 kids on the (Tupelo) High School basketball team this year are PAL kids, four of which are going on to college to play sports. When you can open up an opportunity for even one of our kids to go past high school, that’s worth it.
More importantly, police officers are often perceived by children in a negative environment. For example, writing tickets, making arrests, etc. PAL gives children and adults the opportunity to see officers in a positive environment and in the preventive stage working with children. The goal is to create a positive experience that will carry on to adulthood.
Q: Why does the PAL program need more space than what it has at its current facility on Robert E. Lee Drive?
A: Our summer camps filled up within three weeks of us taking applications this year. We’ve had to turn kids away and we’ve had to turn away community volunteers and officers that want to participate in a certain camp because we don’t have the facilities.
We have the opportunity to reach more kids without it really being any more of a fiscal responsibility to the city, because the programs don’t really cost a lot to the city, but our facility limits us from being able to expand.
We could adequately triple and possibly quadruple our summer program, and we could adequately double and possibly triple our after-school program.