Editorials: Building ties between police, kids

Published Nov. 4, 2016

Big Brothers Big Sisters' nationwide initiative to recruit police officers as mentors for young people will pay dividends for the officers, the kids and the communities where they live and work. Known as "Bigs in Blue," the new program is a well-timed response to increasing tension between law enforcement and the public. It is just the kind of grass roots effort the country needs to reset the adversarial dynamic.

Officers will volunteer to serve as a "Big" and be paired with an elementary or middle school-aged child, spending up to an hour of one-on-one time each week at the child's school. If a real friendship sparks, that could grow to more time outside school. The organization, headed by former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio, is raising $5 million for the program.

Tampa Bay can surely benefit. The region already has a solid tradition to build on of police working as youth mentors. The Tampa Police Department first connected with Big Brothers Big Sisters in the 1990s to make inroads in the troubled area of Sulphur Springs. The department has more work to do. A Times investigation last year found Tampa police were disproportionately ticketing African-Americans on bicycles, often for minor infractions. The practice, which has been all but abandoned, created deep resentment in black neighborhoods.

Bigs in Blue provides police departments an opportunity to continue working to heal the divide and gives young people a positive experience with police.