Brooklyn community partners with NYPD to get youth off the streets, away from potential gun violence

NEW YORK — For some kids in the city, the challenges of staying safe and out of trouble can seem insurmountable.

For instance, in Brownsville, Brooklyn, which has the second-most shooting victims in the city, 470 kids under the age of 18 were arrested last year with guns. Almost 200 have been arrested so far this year, according to the NYPD.

How can police and community leaders in Brownsville stop this trend? If you ask them, the solution lies in partnerships and creating safe spaces for city youth, CBS2’s Kristine Johnson reported Monday.

Mo’ Better Jaguars youth football gathers on Wednesdays at Betsy Head Park in Brownsville.

What may appear as a typical practice session is actually crime prevention. Time spent there is time not spent on streets that surround the park, a neighborhood where bullets fly from guns held by criminals. A fixture in the park since 1996, coach Christopher Legree said he still thinks about the kids who succumbed to the threats.

“I can’t. Um, phew, man,” Legree said.

Today, the renovated park stands as a symbol of hope, a safe space to practice, and families to gather, thanks in part, to a partnership with the NYPD.

“What is the biggest threat for these kids right now?” Johnson asked.

“Gangs are the number one problem,” Assistant Commissioner Kevin O’Connor said.

O’Connor said he believes youth outreach is essential to drive down crime. So when the privately funded teams take the field, the NYPD has cops on patrol. It also creates an opportunity for police assigned to the neighborhood a chance to interact, even play.

“We need to be in places where kids are when things aren’t wrong, when it’s just, ‘Hey, we’re having practice on Wednesday night. There’s the cops again.’ They’re in the park, they’re walking around, they’re saying hello. They’re throwing the football around,” O’Connor said.

The same effort is happening just over a mile away in East New York. A first-of-its-kind community center is fully staffed by the NYPD. Basketball, martial arts, even a recording studio is offered there, but perhaps most influential is the one-on-one time. Cops and kids bonding over video games and conversation.

“They learn your side of the story and you learn their side of the story,” A girl named Alyssa said.

“Would you miss this place if it closed?” Johnson asked.

“Yes, because I feel like this place helps kids get off the street,” a boy named Noah said.

Site director Monique Porter said this, too, is crime prevention at work.

“I’ve seen the anger disappear. I’ve seen kids who don’t really have anywhere to go after school and don’t want to go home,” Porter said.

The community center is funded by the city, but other programs use funds from seized assets. In all, $4 million in drug money transformed 12 NYCHA basketball courts. Other forfeitures fund Saturday Night Lights, a program that gives kids access to over 100 gyms at schools across the five boroughs.

“Putting asset forfeiture into transforming broken-down public spaces for particularly for young people has got to be part of our police department and the city in general’s overall plan,” said Chauncey Parker, the NYPD’s deputy commissioner of the Office of Community Partnership.

“When we first started, the drug addicts, the alcoholics used to walk through the game,” Mo’ Better Jaguars football coach Ervin Roberson said.

Though progress has been made back at Betsy Head Park, coaches and cops are realistic about what they’re up against. Gangs and gun violence remain a constant threat. Perhaps the field will remind them of the positive forces in this community working together to create safe space for kids.

“It’s a tough place to be, but that’s why we focus our efforts here,” O’Connor said. “They would do OK here without us, but it’s better with us.” 

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