The activities at Deerwood Park in Richmond Heights look like what you would see at any summer recreation program. Kids are playing hoops, playing kickball, and running around having fun. What makes this camp different is the presence of police officers. The cops are playing with the kids on the court and on the field. Mingling with teens and preteens is actually a crime-fighting strategy.
"A lot of times they’re dressed just like them, they talk to them at their level, because many times the kids have a guarded relationship with the officers, they don’t feel comfortable speaking to us and our profession as a whole so this allows the communication to flow much better," said commander Edwin Lopez of the Miami-Dade Schools Police department.
The camp is GREAT, which could be a description and its actual name. It’s an acronym for Gang Resistance Education and Training. The Miami-Dade Schools Police have teamed up with the county’s parks department to jointly run the camps. They take the kids on field trips, they go kayaking, they give them swimming lessons, it’s all part of the plan.
There’s also an actual classroom curriculum to follow.
"During the GREAT program," an officer is telling the group of assembled kids inside a classroom, "We’re going to learn about how to stop bullying, how to respect others, and how to do things that are good for you instead of things that are bad for you."
The police officers turn into teachers, going over real-life scenarios, teaching kids how to avoid conflicts and the lures of gangs and drugs.
"This is our third year doing it, and it’s shown to decrease our arrest rates and better than that, decrease bullying and preventing crime from even occurring, so it is evidence-based and it is working,” said Commander Lopez.
One camper said the camp experience would "totally" make kids more likely to cooperate with police officers to prevent crime.
"It’s a great idea for this type of community, to keep kids away from drugs and all that stuff," said Jabahri Robinson, who is going into 9th grade. "There’s a lot of gang violence and a lot of stuff that’s going on in the community today."
The GREAT camp is making good impressions at an impressionable age.
"It’s good to be safe and to do things with police officers, it encourages you to be safe and that the police officers will always be there for you,” said Hope Barfield, who is going into 6th grade.
The police are hoping that after this experience, if the kids see something, maybe they’ll say something.