Cops and kids from Bellport got together Thursday at Bowl Long Island at Patchogue for a day of fun and mutual understanding on the lanes.
Officers from the 5th Precinct teamed up with 17 kids, ranging in age from 10 to 14, all from the Bellport area.
SCPD Commissioner Tim Sini also showed up and threw a few balls.
“They get to see that we’re not robots in uniform,” said Capt. Tommy Kenneally. “We’re human beings and we can kid around and throw gutter balls and laugh and have a good time.
“Everyone is human and everyone’s the same.”
Some of the Bellport kids Thursday are enrolled in the Suffolk County Probation Department’s ChANGE (Children All Need Good Experiences) program, through which the county has contracted with S.T.R.O.N.G. Youth Inc. for services.
And a bit of news: The anti-youth violence initiative, currently a pilot program in Bellport and Wyandanch, is receiving funding for 2017, Sini said, with plans to increase that funding five-fold and extend the program in Brentwood.
Other students Thursday came through Lighthouse Mission Ministries.
Bowling with Badges was born out of talks between Sini and the founders of the South Country Community Information Café group, Regina Hunt and Danielle Skelly.
“We decided that we would put our heads together and figure out what we could do to help bridge the gap between the police and kids in the community,” Hunt said. “We thought about doing something educational, but the kids need an outlet.”
Bellport Middle School student Jimmy Bullard, 13, said all the kids who came to bowl Thursday wanted to be there.
“No one was forced to come here,” he said. “This is important, because it gets kids out of the streets. And if they get involved with the police, they could stay out of trouble. And maybe have a good time.”
While Kenneally had volunteered his time Thursday, the other four uniformed officers and sergeant who bowled did so on the clock, as their shifts were starting.
SIni called Thursday’s event and the other like it an important investment in building safer, more vibrant communities.
“We’re making significant investments in all our communities through Suffolk, but particularly in communities of color,” Sini said. “We see nationwide this collapse of communication between law enforce and these communities, and we’re not seeing that in Suffolk.
“There’s always more work to be done but, we benefit from strong relationships and great community leaders. And we have to make sure we keep building upon those relationships. It benefits everyone.”
He also called the get-togethers great recruitment tools.
“We want to make sure young people look up to police officers and consider a career in law enforcement, particularly children of color,” Sini said. “We can recruit until we’re blue in the face, but if [young people and families] don’t have a good relationship with the police, they’re not going to want to be police.”