Police Activity/Athletic Leagues (PAL) are nothing new in law enforcement. National PAL lists approximately 300 chapters in the United States and the Tulsa (OK) Police Department recently launched an initiative that is impacting kids in a phenomenal way. While PAL is not a new concept, the approach by the Tulsa Police Department is certainly something that all should pay attention to.
The only full time officer dedicated to Tulsa PAL, Officer Khara Rogers, decided to leverage the excitement of participating and ask anyone within the agency and other non-profits if they wanted to join the outreach efforts. E-mails and phone calls quickly poured in and within weeks, the new PAL chapter was running basketball, baseball, golf and a highly successful week long Junior Police Academy but there was one program that quickly stood out.
Sergeant Ken Simpson heard about the PAL Program and suggested Archery as an outreach opportunity. Considered an “equalizer”, Ken told Officer Rogers that “unlike other sports ones mental, physical or social abilities do not determine success” and there was a real opportunity for kids that did not have traditional success in other sports to really grasp what archery could offer. Simpson partnered with the Oklahoma Department of Wildlife Conservation and the National Archery in the Schools Program, which provided equipment and training to a team of Tulsa Police officers that volunteered to take archery to the youth. The hope and aim of the National Program is that students are able to parlay the archery skills into classroom and life success. According to Simpson, “It was great to be able to witness the students self-imposed discipline in everything from waiting until the proper command to get the bows to remembering and going through their mental checklist of the fundamentals.”
With the Archery Program set and officers trained, it was time to reach the youth and Mike Wise, Recreation Director with the Tulsa Boys Home, was ready and willing to help. Founded in 1918, the Tulsa Boys Home is the largest residential treatment facility serving troubled Oklahoma boys. It was an audience that met up directly with the mission statement of Tulsa PAL. Many of the kids had negative feelings about law enforcement and the partnership with the home was a great fit. Wise told me that the “enthusiasm and excitement for archery is off the charts” and while Mike has done countless programs in the past, nothing has done was Tulsa PAL’s Archery Program did. Officer Kyle Beck has received similar feedback, telling me that many of the kids have called PAL’s Archery program “their favorite class.”
Officer Khara Rogers applied for the PAL Position because she was heavily influenced by a police officer growing up in her hometown of Norman (OK). “I recognized at a young age at the influence that law enforcement can have on the youth. Literally, my hero was a police officer and the opportunity to do for others what was done for me was simply something I could not turn down.” Khara told me that the value in bringing Archery to PAL is that everyone has an excitement to participate and succeed. ”
“It provides a chance for all youth to participate and grow, as well as a way to build trust and respect with the officers. Archery is a way to build focus. It calms kids because they are concentrating, clearing their minds, and breathing deep, much like meditation.”
Khara has quickly seen Archery reach the kids like nothing has yet. One veteran officer participating in the program had previously stopped one of the kids while working for the Gang Unit. The initial encounter on the streets was negative but the Archery program has enabled him to reach and change perception like nothing he had never seen before. Officer Ryan Rogers has participated in three sessions, and volunteered one day in addition to his regular work shift. He told me that he has witnessed a complete turnaround in the attitude and behaviors of the kids. Citing a tremendous difference in just three weeks, Rogers said that “it was a great feeling to see the boys excitement and to see their progress each week.”
The Tulsa Police Activity League (TPAL) should be just getting started and traditionally, new programs and ideas take time to see success but something special is happening here. A program for less than six months appears to be doing some of the greatest community work I have ever seen in the country and there is so much more coming that I was not permitted to discuss in detail yet. TPAL not only has sworn police officers involved but a non-profit that has hired three civilians to serve as staff and support for the program. There is also talk of adding additional full time police officers and a multi-million dollar building that will serve as the home of TPAL is on it’s way. I’ve never assumed that I knew much of anything but after talking with Rogers and her crew of passionate volunteers, I know that something very, very good is happening in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and it just makes sense for the world to pay attention.