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GBPD fosters community relationships through sports
Police play basketball
Officers Malik Moon and Jazmine Bell with the Great Bend Police Department take time to play basketball with a Great Bend youth last month. - PHOTO COURTESY OF THE GREAT BEND POLICE DEPARTMENT

It’s officially “game on” at the Great Bend Police Department, thanks to a partnership between the department and Walmart. At the request of the department, the retailer recently agreed to furnish sports equipment to GBPD officers to help them connect with the community.

Great Bend Police Chief Steve Haulmark said he recently approached the retailer with the idea of donating sports equipment as one of several ways to help his officers interact in positive ways with members of the community, particularly young people.

Walmart donated enough sports equipment that officers are now able to carry soccer balls, basketballs and footballs in every patrol vehicles. The retailer also agreed through the partnership to replenish the equipment as the need arises.

“The idea is just to give our officers an opportunity to engage with kids in the community when they see them gathered, and sports is an easy way to meet people where they’re at,” Haulmark said.

Haulmark feels sports provides good common ground to connect, particularly with kids, and through that common ground foster positive relationships with both kids and adults.

Haulmark said it provides a relaxed and pressure-free way to interact through sports, and also fuels the competitive spirit of kids in a positive way.

“Most kids get a kick out of it,” he said. “(They enjoy) if they’re running faster than the police officer, or shooting baskets better than this adult.”

Recently, for example, GBPD officers Malik Moon and Jazmine Bell took time to shoot baskets with youngsters at a hoop near the station, while officers Matthew Barker and Ethan Thomas took an opportunity during last weekend’s Cinco De Mayo festivities to throw a football around with gathered kids.

The chief said he sees positive relationship-building through non law enforcement related contact as an essential function for officers. 

Because the bulk of interactions individuals have with the police often occur under negative circumstances, the positive interactions serve to build a foundation of community trust in the officers, Haulmark said. That foundation of trust helps when officers need help identifying and solving crimes when they occur within the community.

“We want kids to know that the police are here to help,” Haulmark said.

These interactions are especially important for modern community policing, he said, because modern officers often wear many different hats in the line of duty that go beyond just enforcing laws.

“Officers have to be able to shift into different modes depending on what the situation calls for, so being comfortable doing this helps them in that,” he said.

Also, because many young people make career decisions at young ages, he hopes those positive interactions with officers will encourage more young people to seek a career in law enforcement or other avenues of public service.

But he hopes positive interactions with the public go beyond just sports. 

He said the department is always looking for new ways to engage with the public, and is working on different ideas in that regard. However, he welcomes feedback from citizens on ways for his officers to do that.

Officers playing football
Great Bend Police Department officers Matthew Barker and Ethan Thomas play football with gathered youngsters at last weekend’s Cinco De Mayo festivities at Jack Kilby Square in Great Bend. - PHOTO COURTESY OF THE GREAT BEND POLICE DEPARTMENT