The best part of his job, says Kenai Police Sgt. Gus Sandahl, is when he has a chance to interact in a positive way with kids.
“Any positive community program where police can be involved with kids, and show we’re real human beings, we like to have fun, as well as show them good sportsmanship and teach those principles, and give kids something to look forward to every month, and also give officers something to look forward to it’s very rewarding to us to see kids in a positive light,” Sandahl said.
To that end, Sandahl and Officer Tony Garcia of the Soldotna Police Department have been working with James Clark with the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Kenai Peninsula to establish a Police Athletics/Activities League program.
Clark said the idea was hatched with a grant the Boys and Girls Club received through the Office of Justice Programs. Clark has known Garcia and Sandahl for a long time, he said, and looking through available programs, the Police Athletic/Activities League seemed like a great fit for the central Kenai Peninsula.
Clark said the focus of the Kenai Peninsula’s P.A.L. will be on monthly activities. The first activity, a dodge ball and wallyball tournament, is scheduled for Feb. 24 at the Kenai Recreation Center.
Organizers had hoped to do dodge ball this month, but postponed when they realized their date would conflict with the Peninsula Winter Games.
Other events might include ski trips, ping pong tournaments, disc golf anything that might pique the interest of the 6- to 18-year-olds the program targets.
Members of the Kenai and Soldotna police departments will be involved in each activity, and Sandahl said he’s working to get some representation from the state troopers as well. Clark has received letters of endorsement from the Kenai and Soldotna police chiefs, Chuck Kopp and John Lucking Jr., too.
“I’m excited about the possibilities. I know a lot of other officers are as well,” Sandahl said.
Sandahl said he couldn’t pick any single activity that he was looking forward to in particular; he’s excited about the program as a whole and the chance to interact with youth in a positive setting.
“I was a D.A.R.E. officer for a couple of years. That is the best area of law enforcement. It was the best assignment, the best opportunity. The most fun part of the week was going into the classroom, being around kids, teaching them, getting feedback from them it reassures you that we have a great group of kids in this community,” Sandahl said.
Of course, a major goal of P.A.L. activities is reduction in juvenile crime. According to the National Police Athletics/Activities League Web site, “studies have shown that if a young person respects a police officer on the ball field, gym or classroom, the youth will likely come to respect the laws that police officers enforce.”
Sandahl said learning positive alternatives to poor decisions also is part of the D.A.R.E. message, and participation in community activities is a way to keep kids on the right path.
“Anybody that stays busy, whether a child or an adult, is more likely to stay out of trouble,” Sandahl said.
Clark said his goal is for the peninsula P.A.L. the first in Alaska to be a long-term endeavor. Clark plans to spend the next six months raising awareness of the program, and he said once a charter is established, there are a variety of funding sources available. Getting kids and cops interacting in a positive environment, Clark said, is worth the effort.
“If we can get 100 kids involved in a tournament, that’s 100 kids we can reach. ... We want to build positive relationships and have a lot of fun doing it,” Clark said.
Will Morrow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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