Police Activities League: Connecting kids, cops and community

76 different law enforcement professionals donate upwards of 1,000 hours annually to outreach

PAL Philanthropy Edition

Changing the dynamics – one relationship at a time – between at-risk youth and law enforcement is the goal of the Police Activities League (PAL) of Vancouver. As one of the Vancouver Police Department’s (VPD) primary crime prevention tools and ongoing gang prevention programs for youth, PAL of Vancouver brings kids, cops and community together through educational and recreational opportunities. It also promotes academic success, provides positive role models and mentors, and encourages an active lifestyle and healthy habits.

Part of a national PAL organization founded in the early 1900s in New York City, PAL of Vancouver was founded about 15 years ago. The genesis of PAL of Vancouver, said executive director Jenny Thompson, was a rising increase in youth violence, unsafe areas and tension between youth and police officers. As a testament to the real need for such an organization, PAL of Vancouver served 30 to 40 kids that first year; today the organization serves close to 2,000 youth each year.

PAL Officer and boy
Courtesy of Police Activities League of Vancouver

Since about 2006, PAL of Vancouver’s activities have centered around literacy. The organization gives out close to 2,000 books every year, at nearly 20 elementary schools. Overall, said Thompson, 76 different law enforcement professionals from the VPD, Clark County Sheriff’s Department, and most recently the Department of Corrections, donate upwards of 1,000 hours annually to outreach through PAL of Vancouver.

“Encouraging our young adults is important,” said PAL volunteer Lieutenant Mike Knotts with the VPD.

Through time spent with students, officers like Knotts get to know the kids, and the kids realize that the officer is there to help and support them and is “human” just like they are.

“The officers become familiar with the students’ stories,” said Thompson, “and that can help them interact with the students on the street – it gives them perspective.”

Not only that, she continued, but PAL of Vancouver enables law enforcement professionals a chance to connect with kids in a positive environment – in stark contrast with the situations they often deal with in a crime situation.

Besides the literacy program, PAL of Vancouver offers a multitude of options to help promote healthy relationships:

  • The PAL Patrol program helps motivate students and ensure success in school.
  • Dynamic Young Men and Brilliant Outstanding Women programs give students the skills they need to be successful after high school by connecting them with adult mentors from the community.
  • The Explorers Program gives students an opportunity to observe the criminal justice system and assist them in making informed career decisions.
  • Athletic programs are designed to improve overall fitness and health through organized team sports.
  • PAL soccer and basketball tournaments bring our community together and teach sportsmanship, teamwork and fair play.
  • Summer camps host a nine-week, half-day summer camp experience to elementary youth. Themes range from sports to science to the arts. This year, PAL of Vancouver added two week-long crime scene investigation (CSI)-focused camps for teens.

PAL of Vancouver also partnered this year with Big City Mountaineers (a youth development nonprofit) to take two small groups of teens on a seven-day trip backpacking trip. Thompson said that the relationships forged between the teens and the police officers on the trips were pretty amazing.

On the ladies’ trip in particular, she said, “they learned to trust the police officer and accomplish something they didn’t think they could do” – hike 20+ miles with a significant gain in elevation. The teens and the officer had “honest, deep campfire discussions” that were real “aha moments.” A few weeks later, Thompson said, one of the teens greeted the officer from the trip on the street, in front of her friends – something almost unheard of.

“Our work makes us realize that we can make a true impact on individuals, and that impact can spread to those individuals’ peers,” said Thompson.

The biggest challenges facing PAL of Vancouver, Thompson said, was obtaining more funding and “fighting against negative publicity about law enforcement.” In addition, the finite number of law enforcement professionals in the community limits how many kids PAL of Vancouver can serve.

According to Thompson, the local business community can help PAL of Vancouver’s mission in several ways. First, she said, they can learn more about the organization, so they can “talk us up” in the community. One way to learn more is to attend (and possibly sponsor) the group’s upcoming fundraising luncheon on October 26. At the luncheon, Thompson said, they’ll hear compelling stories first-hand and will also learn about new opportunities for community members to join PAL’s elementary and middle school programs. Other ways to help include sponsoring a child, a teen’s camp experience or the Hoopin’ with Heroes Charity basketball game.

Thompson said that their new logo reflects a broader focus, which is already reflected in the organization’s work in Battle Ground and Camas.

“We’d love our organization to include other police departments, but we’re not there yet – we want to grow at a healthy rate and make sure we grow right,” said Thompson. She added that another potential plan was to reach out to get local state troopers involved with the organization.

“We believe our work can help reduce the juvenile crime rate, by empowering our youth to make responsible life choices,” Thompson concluded.

Established 2001 www.vancouverpal.org

PAL of Vancouver partners

Besides the Vancouver Police Department, Clark County Sheriff’s Office and the Department of Corrections, the following businesses, among others, also partner with PAL of Vancouver:

Holland Partner Group, McCord’s Vancouver Toyota, Evergreen Public Schools, Vancouver Public Schools, Vancouver Energy, Nautilus Inc., Beaches Restaurant, Share, Portland Police Bureau’s Sunshine Division, Whole Foods, Big City Mountaineers and CHILL (a Portland youth development nonprofit).

Learn more about the organization at www.vancouverpal.org.

Jodie Gilmore
Jodie Gilmore’s journalistic background includes more than 15 years of writing for the Vancouver Business Journal as well as other publications such as Northwest Women’s Journal, North Bank Magazine, American Builders Quarterly and The New American. A Master’s in Technical & Professional Writing and 20+ years in the trenches as a technical writer and online help developer round out her writing background. When not writing, she enjoys gardening and working on her small farm in the Cascade foothills.

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