Corporal Rey Reynolds of the Vancouver Police Department got tired of chasing criminals around. “I decided to attack the problem from another direction,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds firmly believes that “the best way to conquer crime is build relationships.” He said criminal behavior is an offshoot of not having a relationship with someone stable, with a good outlook and integrity. That was something he felt he could provide.
Reynolds found a venue to exercise these philosophies through the Community Resource Team. Soon he was joined in his mission by an unlikely source, his mentee, Brian. That pair grew into INTEGRICREW, which is a leadership development program supported by the Police Activities League of Vancouver (PAL). It includes fifteen boys form Hudson’s Bay High School and Mountain View High School.
PAL partners with law enforcement to provide sports, academic and mentorship programs to create positive relationships between police and youth.
Brian is a recent graduate from Hudson’s Bay High School. He got involved in PAL because “I decided to make my life straight.” It didn’t take long for him to not only get help from Reynolds, but offer help, too.
But that’s the PAL way. “We can’t give and give – we have to expect the kids will give back. We’re teaching them reality,” Reynolds said. The group performs community service, such as creating a garden center for Legacy Children’s Hospital or cleaning up Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge. Sometimes the work is hard. But sometimes donations follow and when they do, they treat themselves to things. One such thing was a fishing trip at the Quinault Indian Nation. They learned some Quinault history and lore from their guide, who also donated razor clams and hung out with them into the night.
Not all kids are ready for the relationships offered by Reynolds and Brian. “A lot of boys we have some difficulties with, and that’s fine,” said Brian. When a kid “messes up,” then they are put on probation, during which they cannot have contact with the group, but their progress in school is monitored. If they fail probation, they are not allowed back in. The probation period and policy for expulsion was Brian’s idea.
“Once you give these kids their due, they have to make a decision,” said Reynolds. “They can choose to succeed or go back to their comfort zone. Sometimes their comfort zone is living in squalor.”
Now Reynolds and Brian are proud of the successes in the group. One of the kids Reynolds read to has become a teacher. One mentee is on a path to become a doctor. Another is successful at starting a business. Brian has graduated high school with pride and is planning to be a business owner of a mechanic shop. “Brian is going to be successful. There’s no doubt about it,” said Reynolds.
Officer Julie Ballou has been involved with PAL for about seven years, as a mentor and also a liaison for the Board of Directors, chairing the Program Committee and making sure there are enough officer volunteers for each event. She has also been a boxing coach, one of the early activities of PAL, when it was the Police Athletic League. “I’m a strong advocate for boxing,” said Ballou, who sees it as helping kids with anger issues get focus and control.
As a mentor she meets with a group of fifth grade girls from Orchards Elementary School. When she gets together with the girls she appears in uniform and there’s often a lot of questions, especially personal questions about who she is when she’s off duty. “They also like to watch videos of me getting Tasered,” Ballou said.
Ballou also has a group at Fort Vancouver High School. Ballou and three other women took this group on a seven day backpacking trip during last summer. It was a daunting proposition for both sides.
Though Ballou didn’t know the students well or some not at all, trust came fairly quickly. “Their success (on the trip) was reliant on the adults because we were cooking their food and we knew where to go.” She points out that trust came faster because PAL Executive Director Jenny Thompson had already formed an alliance with the girls. One of the girls was Crystal, now a Hudson’s Bay senior.
“I used to get in trouble a lot,” said Crystal. She had even been arrested for fighting. “I never really had people to talk to and had anger issues from what was going on.” Ballou changed all that.
Ballou found herself drawn to Crystal in particular, and she’s been her mentor ever since. She noticed some qualities in Crystal that impressed her. “She’s a trooper,” Ballou said. “She doesn’t give up.” Ballou has seen Crystal show leadership ability, encouraging girls when they were tired and sweating.
“I know the feeling of wanting to give up,” said Crystal. “I like to lead people and motivate people and not let them down.”
Ballou and Crystal meet outside the group, but sometimes at school. “It was super cute to go and have her say ‘here’s my cop friend.’”
Crystal has another year of high school, but then plans to do non-profit work. She has an interest in Micronesia and pediatrics. Maybe the two will combine. She’s learned to channel her anger into running or volleyball or drawing. “A big part of that was from Jenny and Julie. They’re great,” said Crystal in summary.
To learn more about the Police Activities League of Vancouver, click here.