Almost every Friday evening on Blue Hill Avenue, Boston police officers and local children stare each other down — from opposite sides of the tennis court.
They’re participating in a program called “Volley Against Violence,” an initiative organized by the Boston Police Department and the Sportsmen’s Tennis and Enrichment Center back in 2009 to reduce violence among young people by connecting them with adult role models such as police officers, according to Gayna Sealy, the program coordinator for the center.
“The main thing is to try to foster relations between our young people and the officers so the kids don’t see them as these people who are just there to police them, and the officers see the kids” in a more positive light as well, Sealy said.
The program was started by Officer Frank Williams, who’s also a board member at the center, after he noticed groups of kids in the city with nothing to do Friday nights.
“I was working in South Boston, and I was driving my cruiser down the street, and I saw these kids hanging out,” Williams said. “About a week went by, and I saw the same kids, same place.”
So, he put them in his cruiser, took them to a park, and started teaching them to play tennis. Before long, the BPD was partnering with Sportsmen’s to make it official.
They even developed a service to transport participants to and from the events at 950 Blue Hill Ave., which draw about 80 to 120 kids each Friday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., and until 9 p.m. during the summer, Williams said.
“The kids create a better relationship with the police officers, and vice versa, through tennis,” he said.
Williams said he and other officers have even gotten crime tips from children who trust the officers they play tennis with enough to confide in them.
“A kid asked me to drop him off last . . . and he told me he knew where a gun was in a home in his development,” he said.
He also recalled a story from an officer who was able to resolve a domestic violence situation, but only with help from a girl he played tennis with.
The officer found himself responding to a party where everyone spoke exclusively Mandarin, but a girl in the development “peeked her head around the corner and said, ‘Officer, I can translate.’ ”
“I think it benefits police officers more than it does kids,” Williams said.Alyssa Meyers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @ameyers_.