One quick scan of the recent news will reveal what no one needs to be reminded of – tensions between law enforcement officers and the communities they serve are high.
As cities attempt to cope with that tension, events uniting law enforcement officers and community residents are springing up all around the nation.
But the Grand Prairie police department was working to connect with the youth in its community long before the tumultuous events of this summer.
In the summer of 2013, the department partnered with the Grand Prairie YMCA to start Midnight Basketball, a program that is still popular – and growing.
Every Thursday night, police officers meet with teens at the YMCA to talk about issues, hang out, and shoot a few hoops.
“As police officers, we want our young people to come to us in a time of need in lieu of them being fearful or anxious about our presence,” said Grand Prairie Police Chief Steve Dye.
When the program began, around 40 teens would show up for the weekly meetings at the YMCA, said Oza Jones, Teen Development Director for Grand Prairie YMCA. Now, the each Thursday night sees an average of 100 teens. The program has caught the attention of Grand Prairie Mayor Ron Jensen and other community leaders, Jones added.
“At Midnight Basketball you will see laughing, talking, and mentorship between the GPPD and our teens and young adults,” Jones said in an email to DFW Mag.
Dye says the program serves a dual purpose, “allowing our youth to see through the uniform and get to know our police officers as people – fathers, mothers, sons and daughters, as well as allowing our officers to learn to more effectively engage with our future leaders.”
Dye pointed out that law enforcement officers spend a majority of their time solving problems and promoting a better quality of life for the communities they serve. Their focus is “not primarily on enforcement,” he said, and that’s one thing officers convey to Grand Prairie’s youth through Midnight Basketball.
“Our nation is in a dark ‘Mid-Night Hour,’” Jones said, “but our city finds relief at midnight because of Midnight Basketball.”