December 19, 2023

Sports have a unique ability to bring people together, overcoming barriers that can exist in other settings.

The lessons that sports can teach through the situations presented in a competitive setting can transcend situational differences to unite people who may otherwise never come together.

Law enforcement agencies have long looked for ways to use this connectivity through sports to connect with their community. Sports is a generally “cool” way to reach youth in any neighborhood, can provide an aspirational target, and develop a sense of belonging and discipline.

For departments looking for ways to use sports to engage with their community, here are four examples to provide inspiration:

Police Athletic Leagues

Not sure where to get started, or looking to plug into a developed network of support for your new program? Then a Police Athletic League chapter may work best for you.

There are over 300 PAL Member Chapters in cities across the United States, including the U.S. Virgin Islands, serving youth ages 5 to 18, according to the National Police Athletic/Activities Leagues.

“PAL” is based on the conviction that young people–if they are reached early enough–can develop strong positive attitudes towards police officers in their journey through life toward the goal of maturity and good citizenship.

The PAL program brings youth under the supervision and positive influence of a law enforcement agency and expands public awareness about the role of law enforcement and the reinforcement of the responsible values and attitudes instilled in young people by their parents.

Local chapters provide a variety of activities, including youth sports, but also character development, homework assistance and academic enrichment, and arts and cultural enrichment. 

Some of the advantages of these types of chapters are that they are customizable to fit the resources and needs of your department, and there is also the opportunity for national-level support through “National PAL.”

Visit the National PAL website or check out these “Five Reasons to Start a PAL Chapter in Your Community” to learn more.

The “DIY” Option

Some departments would prefer to develop programs on their own. 

A prime example is the “PAK United” program from the Mt. Vernon Police Department.

Started in 2021, the program has realized support from local businesses and organizations to connect with kids through events such as dodgeball, bowling, axe throwing, and movie nights. 

The program’s success has been recognized as the “Community Impact Award” winner from LAW Publications in 2021.

Learn more about the program here. 

Pick-up Games

While structured programming is good and effective, sometimes it’s the more impromptu interactions that really stick with people and shape perceptions.

This approach is more focused on going to the people where they are rather than inviting them to come to you. Despite all of the tools at our disposal to get information out about special events, leagues, programs, etc, there are still people who will miss our communications.

These interactions are the type that can go viral and garner positive attention for the department. A few examples include: 

While these interactions are typically authentic and unplanned, departments and leaders can encourage their officers to look for these types of genuine opportunities to take the time to interact with the community in these unscripted settings.

Police v. Fire Competitions

While many of these examples include law enforcement in leadership and mentoring roles, another opportunity puts the officers on the field for some friendly competition.

Likely popularized by the NYPD v FDNY charity hockey game, departments across the country are partnering with local fire units to host these events, typically benefitting local charities.

Hockey is not the only sport available. For example, departments around the country have participated in football, softball, basketball, and even MMA/boxing competitions.

These competitions typically support organizations that support first responders and are a great way to invite the community into a fun sporting event.

Sports, whether officers are leading or participating, are a great way to humanize your department to your local community and can help you achieve your overall community engagement goals in multiple ways.