Despite Tuesday's searing heat and humidity, Howard County police spent the day outside, bringing a trailer full of games and activities to the first of five different neighborhoods where kids free of school want something fun to do.
Everything from the county police helicopter to the department's armored car was on display as hot dogs and hamburgers cooked on a grill behind Stonehouse, the Long Reach community center, though few neighborhood kids showed up for the late morning kick-off. Police are hoping to attract more neighborhood youths as the summer rolls on.
A K-9 demonstration was scheduled for later in the day, and a large trailer was used to bring equipment for basketball, bean-bag toss, video games, footballs and more.
The Community Athletic Program began last year with a $39,000 federal grant from the U.S. Attorney's office. The grant expired June 30 but the county still has the recreational equipment it bought last year, and the police foundation donated money for food. Officers who regularly work in county schools and those who concentrate on youth and specific communities will staff the weekday activities.
Youth Services Division commander Lt. Jim Marshall said the trailer and at least five officers will visit a different part of the county every day. They'll be at Oakland Mills Village Center each Monday, Long Reach each Tuesday, Laurel Woods Elementary on Wednesdays, Harper's Choice sports park on Thursdays, and the East Columbia Library in Owen Brown each Friday. Barring rain, the visits will run from 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. through August 20.
"We face some challenges getting the word out," Marshall said, and acknowledged the extreme heat might keep some kids away too. But county police chief William McMahon said that once the word spreads and the neighborhood kids see the fun and games are there every week, they will come out.
"We want to take it to places where kids are already hanging out, and provide a positive relationship with the police," Marshall said.
Last year the program attracted an average of 33 kids a day. Places like the East Columbia Library and the Harper's Choice sports park are already gathering spots, McMahon said. Long Reach wasn't included last year, but this year the police set up shop behind the Stonehouse community center building owned by the Columbia Association.
The program seeks to put community officers together with impressionable youngsters aged 10 to 15 who may be stuck at home without transportation or a summer activity as their parents work.
"For the kids looking for something to do, they're going to find something to do," McMahon said.
He said the idea is to provide a constructive, supervised activity while also building relationships with police officers. The communities involved mostly already have police substation offices because they've historically had problems with street crime.
Under a portable shelter, 11-year old Hadriel Ferrer and Nathan Hammond enthusiastically played " NBA 2K10" on a big flat screen television that was a little hard to see because of the bright sunlight. Kya Jones, 10, who like Hadriel will begin Wilde Lake Middle School next month, expressed a common sentiment. Nearby a sweating County Executive Ken Ulman provided weak competition to the electronic game as he shot real hoops on a portable basket, scoring three in a row. He then sampled a hamburger that he proclaimed delicious.
"I'd rather it was 86 degrees," Jones said, but all three children seemed enthusiastic about the games, even if they weren't in an air-conditioned living room. But the three children don't live in Long Reach and were invited by officers just to help launch the program.
Nathan is home schooled and said his father works for the police department. Kya said she's already a member of the police Bear Trax club for kids.
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