Santa Barbara, CA, July 26, 2021 – After 18 months of the COVID-19 pandemic and polarizing discussions surrounding policing in the U.S., local teens and police officers had the unique opportunity to gather in an open-minded, stress-free environment during the Cops & Kids Camp this past June. For four days, 32 teens with the Santa Barbara Police Activities League (SBPAL) gathered at the Circle V Ranch Camp with officers from the City of Santa Barbara Police Department. In addition to partaking in typical summer camp activities, including performing skits, swimming, and hiking, the teens also participated in workshops such as the Street Smarts Program, focusing on developing leadership and team-building skills.
The annual Cops & Kids Camp, organized by SBPAL, provides a wonderful camp experience at no charge to youth who may otherwise not be able to participate in such a program. The camp also serves as an opportunity for the teens to get to know local police officers and learn more about their work in the community.
Having the opportunity to interact with police officers and develop mentoring relationships is an experience many teens have not experienced outside of SBPAL. Through this camp, teens can ask questions and have honest conversations with officers. After camp, participants expressed increased self-confidence, leadership skills, and comfortability amongst police.
“It’s very beautiful because you have a family outside your family. You get to make a new family. You get to make new friends. You get to have opportunities like going to camp. I was very shy, but when I got to PAL, it really helped me open up. It really helped me communicate with new people, with the cops, and get to see their work from a different perspective,” shared a Cops & Kids Camp participant.
The Cops & Kids Camp is an example of community policing, where officers get to know the local youth and families in the community where they work. It is a critical moment for teens to have these conversations and be able to ask questions that are often emotional and difficult. The Cops & Kids Camp environment is uniquely suited for these conversations to happen, resulting in greater mutual understanding for both the teens and the officers.
To ensure that the camp experience is efficient in providing both fun and positive experience for participants, SBPAL conducted a post and pre-survey. Questions on the survey included how participants felt about police officers, their sense of belonging, and what they hoped to gain from camp. The pre-survey reported higher isolation levels, lack of trust among police officers, and uncertainty about how they would feel about attending camp. The post-survey had an overall 18% increase in feeling safe and trusting police officers. The post-survey also showed that more students became aware of community resources, developed a better understanding of community policing, and felt more comfortable trusting law enforcement.
“At the core of it is that we care about each other. It gives us the opportunity to learn about each other and learn from each other. It’s as helpful to the officers as it is to the youth who are able to attend,” said Lieutenant Aaron Baker of the Santa Barbara Police Department.
Hear from the teens and officers themselves and get a peek into the Cops & Kids Camp in this video.
The Santa Barbara Police Activities League strives to build the bridge between cops, kids, and our community through educational, athletic, and leadership enrichment programs. SBPAL, located at the Twelve35 Teen Center (1235 Chapala Street), provides teens with holistic programming including academic support and a wide range of enrichment programs such as fitness classes and equipment, environmental education and social-emotional and mental wellness referral support.
For more information about SBPAL, visit their website at www.sbpal.org.