Colorado Springs police bonding with local kids through sports

CSPD'S "PLAY COS" program was started in 2021 as a way to foster positive relationships between police and the community they serve – through sports.
Published: Mar. 10, 2023 at 9:37 AM MST
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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KKTV) - With lights flashing and sirens blaring, Colorado Springs police officers crashed a kids’ soccer game this week -- to hand out free soccer balls.

It’s all part of the Colorado Springs Police Department’s PlayCOS program, which was started in 2021 as a way to foster positive relationships between police and the community they serve, through sports. The program takes officers to schools, community centers and parks around the city to connect with kids through a game of dodgeball, kickball, basketball.

“How the program started was [CSPD Community Relations] Sgt. Newton looked at: ‘What are ways we can better look at connecting with our community?” said Officer Daniel Short, a fellow member of CSPD’s Community Relations Department. “How can we have more positive contacts with our community? And one of the best ways is sports. If you look at any team, it’s completely diverse. You have kids that in a normal school setting might not ever talk to each other. But when they join a sports team, there’s a common ground.”

And that includes when a police officer joins their sports team.

“Sports just kinds of breaks it through,” Short said. “When a kid is allowed to throw a dodgeball at an officer, it completely breaks any barriers and allows us to have fun and talk and have real conversations. We’re talking to third, fourth, fifth, sixth grade, eighth grade, high schoolers, so whatever it is, we allow them to just have a conversation with us.”

When officers visit schools, they’ll play for a while, then sit down and let the kids ask anything they want.

“We play for about 35-40 minutes, and then afterward we have a Q&A session, anywhere from 10-35 minutes or so, and we allow the students to ask anything they want. We have it informal, so anything from what’s your favorite doughnut to social justice questions, or things that they’ve seen on media, whether it’s our agency or elsewhere. And we allow them to break that barrier, to have a conversation about whatever it is they want to know,” Short said.

Another way for officers to connect with kids is by always having a sports ball handy in case of an impromptu pick-up game.

“Every officer has a sports ball in the trunk of their car. That just allows them when they’re going to call to call, whenever they have that break from paperwork and admin stuff and they come to one of these parks or they’re even in the street and see a kid shooting a basketball around, throwing a football around, the officer can go and ask if they want to join. And whether it’s two minutes of throwing around or a 20-minute conversation with them and having fun, then afterward the officer is able to give that sports ball to the kid, and then they can come back to one of the four substations and refill and then do it all again.”

Short is in charge of making sure there are always plenty of sports balls at the substations -- something made possible, he says, through the generosity of the community at large.

“The past few years, citizens in our community have come over, they’ve bought or donated sports balls brand new to the program, and then we’re giving them right back to our own community,” he said.

uiOne of the biggest parts of the program is the soccer ball giveaway, made possible through a partnership with SCHEELS Sporting Goods. For the last couple of years, police having passing out free soccer balls to the hundreds and hundreds of kids signed up for the city’s youth soccer league.

“We’ve given every kid a brand new soccer ball. So that allows the coaches to better facilitate their practices, so that makes sure every kid has a soccer ball when they’re doing drills for dribbling and different things of shooting and stuff like that. This allows them to each have one and be able to take home,” Short said.

Volunteers with CSPD sign up to go out to practices across the city to hand the soccer balls out and then join the kids for a little kicking around.

“We don’t want to take up too much of the coaches’ time -- and most of the time, the kids are teaching us how to play. But we’ll go out there, do a couple of drills, give them some interaction, we’ll go out lights and sirens in the park and stuff like that, just to have some fun. And then we’ll give the balls to the kids,” Short said.

This year’s giveaway is underway now, and when it’s completed in another couple of weeks, 1,500 kids will have a free soccer ball.

Every free sports ball, every pick-up game, is a positive moment shared between an officer and a child. Short says it goes both ways: It seems to mean a lot to the kids, and it means a great deal to the officers in the program.”

“So one of the memorable moments we’ve had is Sgt. Newton and I went out to Goose Gossage Park. We went out there, we had the lights and sirens and everything, and as we were donating the SCHEELS soccer balls and talking to the team, one of the kids recognized my sergeant and said, ‘Hey, were you at my school this past month playing dodgeball?’ And we’re like, ‘Yeah, we were out there!’ And we were talking about that, and he’s like, ‘Yeah, I threw a dodgeball at your face!’

“... Having that is tremendous for us because it gives us a break from everything that we’re doing in our job, where it can be a high-stress situation, allows us to have some fun with the kids and just look at our community and look at our kids as kids and have fun with them.”

Click here for more on PlayCOS.

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