ST. PETERSBURG – The City of St. Petersburg Parks & Recreation Department hosted their 5th Annual Community Day where teens and their families spent the day hanging out with local police officers all in an effort to bridge the gap between law enforcement and the community.
The Campbell Park Recreation Center, located at 601 14th St. S, wants to create a better tomorrow for the youths that walk the neighborhood streets and use their facilities every day. So Recreation Supervisor Carlos Daniels put together a positive interaction between the officers that work and live on the south side with the teens and preteens in the city.
“I thought this would be a great opportunity to capture the police out and about,” said Daniels whose primary aim is to show the community that the officers in their area really have their best interests at heart.
Although this event has been going on for five years, getting local police to hang with the kids is something relatively new. Daniels’ main goal is to show residents that instead of volatile relationships with law enforcement, abiding citizens can form a relationship with the officers sent out to patrol their streets every day.
“This is going to be a great start in immersing our officers in the Campbell Park community,” said Daniels who hopes to grow the event and make the program recognized throughout the community. “Our officers can start embracing our youth and our kids in the community.”
Before embarking on an afternoon of outdoor fun complete with a three-on-three basketball tournament, free food, vendors and bouncy houses, the youth were divided up into groups and attended three sessions to learn about what law enforcement does and to get their take on crime in the area.
Assistant Police Chief Luke Williams conducted the session on teens and drugs; a topic he admits doesn’t get enough attention.
“We see a lot of things that are not necessarily good so when we get an opportunity to talk with young men and women to help them steer clear of those types of things, it means a lot to us,” Williams said.
An officer for some 30 years, Williams enjoys what he does and wants to make a real difference by preventing teens from getting involved with that type of life and to ensure they will have a chance at a better future. He shared the real facts with kids about the prevalence of drugs in their neighborhood, on the street and inside their schools.
“Drugs have a very prominent part in the calls for service that we go to,” said Williams to kids as young as eight. The reality of coming across a pusher while they walk the halls in their elementary school is growing, and the risk certainly increases in middle and high school.
When asked what types of drugs they knew about, the group listed the usual suspects: marijuana, crack and cocaine. Williams discussed the lengths addicts go to in order to fund their habit and educated the children on other drugs that are making a showing in the community.
Spice, a synthetic form of marijuana is becoming popular with teens and young adults and is linked to altered mental states, increased heart rate and acute kidney injury by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The plant used in making Spice is sprayed with cannabinoids made in a lab and the drug could be different each time it’s taken depending on who manufactured it and what unknown chemicals were added.
He also spoke of flakka, another synthetic drug known more commonly as “bath salts,” that is gaining popularity in the U.S. Like other synthetic drugs, flakka is extremely dangerous inducing seizures, paranoia and delusions, causing users have psychotic episodes. “We see people who get hurt very seriously and killed because of drugs,” Williams said.
The discussion wasn’t one way. The children in attendance discussed the use of alcohol as a drug that impairs friends they have, even their parents. Officer Settle patrols Campbell Park. She’s seen the affects that too much alcohol and experimenting with drugs has on both the parents and children who live in the area.
“I’ve seen it destroy families,” she said. “I’ve seen it give families the darkest days of their lives.”
She encouraged the children to stay away from drugs and alcohol, to love themselves enough to walk away from that type of life and to be the best version of themselves that they can possibly be.
Officer Maybell also discussed drugs with the kids, letting them know they were at the prime age when they will start seeing more drugs entering their schools. “Don’t think that people aren’t going to approach you,” he said.
He also discussed the use of drugs among athletes as a way to enhance their performance. He gave alternatives such as lifting weights and running instead of falling into a scenario where the drug use would be discovered and the user would be ostracized in their sport.
“A quick way to lose a scholarship or the ability to get an education is to use drugs,” said Maybell who sees it happening every day. He also keeps up on the statistics, sharing with the youths that athletes and those who habitually use drugs turn ill or pass away early, their bodies and organs affected in ways not seen right away. “The decisions that you make are very important.”
Coach Mitchel Hunter, a teacher at Tyrone Middle School, spoke in one of the sessions about students becoming their own advocate. A teacher for 14 years, Hunter also tutors at Campbell Park. Raised by his grandmother who worked two jobs, he encouraged kids in the same situation to not fall through the cracks.
“You need to know that you can get services you need to be successful,” he said.
Civilian Police and Community Relations Coordinator, Lendel Bright handed out information on civilian rights and what to do if afraid to contact police.
“You call my office and I help you out,” he said letting them know that once they get arrested, it doesn’t disappear. He also encouraged parents to know where their kids are at all times.
John Huff, Forensic Science Specialist with the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office was on hand to talk about crime scene investigations. The kids were eager to learn how a real crime scene is investigated as opposed to the ones on television.
“I love the way they do it in the movies. It looks like blood but it’s really not. It’s Karo Syrup and they use black and red food dye to get it the right color. So when you see
zombie movies and they’re licking blood off each other, they are really licking pancake syrup,” he said to a room full of excited kids.
He explained basic forensics is fingerprinting and collecting DNA, but what they rely on most is photography. “We have to show what the crime scene looks like both inside and outside and all around. When we find evidence…we document it the best we can,” he said.
He revealed that the rougher the texture is of an object, the harder it is to get a fingerprint off of it. He also revealed that there is a whole department of people who sit around in cubicles all day and match up prints.
“I don’t have the discipline or the patience for that, but there are a whole bunch of people that do,” he said.
The 5th Annual Community Day was a huge success. With the help of local churches such as Truth Faith and Deliverance Community Church and Beaming Hope Church, the gap between law enforcement and the community moved a little closer that Saturday morning.