By NEMS Daily Journal
Wednesday’s formal opening of the newly renovated quarters for Tupelo’s Police Athletic League provides an exclamation point for a thriving new program taking the Tupelo Police Department more effectively into the community before crime captures children and adolescents.
The league’s new headquarters/gymnasium on Douglas Street was first the recreation center for Harrisburg Baptist Church, which relocated, and more recently it was the gym/activities center for The Salvation Army, which sold the property to the city for PAL.
PAL had outgrown its original facility on Robert E. Lee Drive.
Community policing was fairly late coming to Tupelo, but the idea is simple and widely proven effective where it’s practiced: Reinvigorating communities is essential in deterring crime, creating stronger neighborhoods through trust in police presence and shaping the community partnerships to build trust allowing police to form close relationships with the community. Without trust between police and citizens, effective policing is impossible, as U.S. Department of Justice evaluations have found.
The idea of PALs is more than 70 years old, with six chapters on the eastern seaboard planting a seed that has grown into a national movement involving 700 cities, police departments, civic leaders, volunteers and more than 1 million children and adolescents.
Boys only have been involved so far in Tupelo’s PAL, but the new Jack Reed Jr. Gymnasium (named for Mayor Reed, honoring his strong advocacy in organizing and sustaining the program) will allow inclusion of girls in sports activities plus several activities under one roof at the same time.
Community policing, as the name implies, requires the active participation of local government, civic and business leadership, community volunteers, churches, schools and other institutions.
As Reed suggested Thursday morning in comments to the Daily Journal, it is vastly better to have children and teenagers go home exhausted after a day or night of strenuous sports activities rather than a night of criminal behavior on the streets.
The national Police Athletic League website says that studies show that if a “young person respects a police officer on the ball field, gym or (in a ) classroom, the youth will likely come to respect the laws that police officers enforce.” Transferring the healthiest community values to young people helps assure the future.