Police officers know the importance of community outreach, particularly with the youth.
It may be one moment here or another encounter there. Then it's over. Then there is a void. A group of New York City Police Department officers established the Far Rockaway Colts to be a more sustainable force. They provide at-risk youth with tutoring, school mentoring, and last but not least, the opportunity to play flag football while being coached by the officers.
That made it a perfect fit for the New York Giants, who extended a helping hand through their "Team of Teams" initiative.
"We want to be a pillar in the community," said coach Joe Judge, who split his team into nine groups this season, each one paired with an organization in a dedicated region within New York and New Jersey. "We want to be connected to the communities that support us as a team. We want to support them back in every way we can. With the Far Rockaway Colts, you just see a bunch of kids who are eager to learn, eager for guidance, that look up to the players they see on the field."
Based off the Los Angeles Police Department's success with the Watts Rams program, the Far Rockaway Colts were established in 2018. The year-round program includes 14 officers and 108 boys between the ages of 8 and 13.
"Usually when it comes to youth crimes, Far Rockaway disproportionately has a higher rate of youth crimes and also youth gangs," Lieutenant Lenora Moody said. "So there was an idea of maybe we can do something to try to help the community and try to change the narrative as far as these kids' lifestyle out here."
Since the foundation of the Far Rockaway Colts, the members have improved their school attendance from 60 percent to 95 percent. School violence has also gone down to the point where members had no reported fights.
"The Giants are an extra limb, an extra layer to help these young men achieve the goals that we have laid down in front of them," Sergeant Kai Bowen said. "To make them better students, better people, and change the narrative on what their lives have been so far. Far Rockaway is not a unique place. The problems that are plaguing our young men are big in cities like Chicago or Baltimore. We all experienced a bit of the hardship that they're going through. So it's easy for us to relate and it's easy for us to see we are the bridge that's sometimes keeping them from sinking."
A major tenet of the Giants' community relations department is to avoid one-and-done initiatives. After an introductory video conference in June, the Giants have held a Zoom meeting with the Far Rockaway Colts every week since players reported for training camp in mid-July.
For these virtual chats, the NYPD officers will pick up a group of the members and bring them to the local community center. The boys selected each week have either performed well in school, have had good attendance, or have shown good behavior.
The boys then have the opportunity to ask Giants players and coaches anything they want.
"I support this program a billion percent because it's a youth program that's helping out young kids and it's connecting children with officers in the area and just building those relationships," defensive lineman and co-captain Dalvin Tomlinson said. "When you see those officers in their communities just go out and real deal care for these kids, I feel like that's something where there's a disconnect in a lot of communities across the nation these days. It's super refreshing because they genuinely want to hear about your life other than football or what happened last game. They want to know what happened in high school, like where were you raised, where are you from."
"They're an organization trying to help these kids that were clearly in a disadvantaged situation," wide receiver Darius Slayton said. "These people are trying to do good for these kids and this community that need help. I see a lot of myself in some of these boys. A lot of questions [were ones] I would have asked."
In addition to continuing the weekly mentoring sessions, the Giants plan to advocate for the proper funding and support of the program. Their future goals also include assisting in the expansion throughout the five boroughs.
"The difference is being made," Detective Patrick Blanc said. "The narrative is being changed. Just being in Rockaway, people are running up to you just saying, 'Oh those little guys, those are the Far Rockaway Colts.' It's working. It's working."