Earlier this summer, seven off-duty police officers joined 14 participants from CASES’ Next STEPS Mentoring program  for an evening of bowling, arcade games, and unlimited pizza at Bowlmor in Times Square. CASES’ Next STEPS program provides mentoring services for young people age 16-24 who live in or near two NYC Housing Authority (NYCHA) developments in Central Brooklyn. CASES’ staff organized the bowling event as part of a larger effort to strengthen relationships between the young people who live in Bushwick and Tompkins Houses and the police officers who patrol these housing developments.
“In Bedford-Stuyvesant and Bushwick, the police officers have gone above and beyond to support Next STEPS and our participants,” Ana Dopazo, CASES’ Director of Family Court and Mentoring Services, said. “The officers generously provided a van to transport participants from Tompkins Houses in Bed-Stuy to the event in Times Square, and we were thrilled that seven officers made the effort to join us on a Friday evening.”
Ms. Dopazo explained that joint events with participants from both Next STEPS locations have been difficult to organize in the past.
“Community safety concerns have made it hard for our staff to organize events in Brooklyn where participants from both developments feel safe,” she said. “This time, we traveled out of their neighborhoods and out of Brooklyn, where all the participants could be equally comfortable. I was very excited to see how well the two groups got along together and with the police officers.”
At both housing developments, police have worked to form relationships with young people and their families and to help connect residents to available services, including Next STEPS. Officer Jarrett Akins is a Neighborhood Coordination Officer at Tompkins Houses. He and his partner, Officer Marc Lebron, both attended the Next STEPS bowling event.
“We have been working to create as many opportunities as possible for positive interactions with the teenage residents at Tompkins,” Officer Akins said. “The uniform can be intimidating to a lot of young people. We want residents to be able to separate the person from the uniform.”
Both Ms. Dopazo and Officer Akins agreed that the event was a success, and the Next STEPS participants subsequently invited the police officers in attendance to join their next summer outing.
CASES’ Next STEPS mentoring program is an initiative of the Mayor’s Action Plan for Neighborhood Safety and is funded and monitored by the NYC Department of Probation.