With tensions often escalating between police officers and citizens in many parts of the United States, one American city's police department is looking to grow police-community bonds with a fun bike ride.
On July 23, a group of Colorado police officers will be riding bikes with kids from the Sun Valley Youth Center to visit the Denver Broncos, Colorado's popular professional football team that won the 2016 Super Bowl. Some 40 kids from a public housing neighborhood will ride with police officers and cyclists from Denver's Front Rangers Cycling Club to the Broncos' stadium, where they will get to spend an hour with the team at a mini-camp. Then the group will ride back to the Youth Center for lunch.
Sergeant Kim Lovato of the Denver Police Department told BikeRadar that the main goal is to "humanize the badge" — to get the neighborhood kids to see police officers as people who want to serve the community.
"Not every encounter with a police officer has to be in an enforcement role," said Sgt Lovato. "We want to interact with the kids and let them know that we may not be as scary as what some may believe. We want to show them that they can approach any officer and just say hi and know that we are there to help them."
"I would love them to walk away with the impression that just because there is a police officer around does not mean that someone is doing something bad or is in trouble," Lovato said. "We want them to not have fear of anyone in a uniform."
Denver's Front Rangers Cycling Club has been working with kids for years.
"The Front Rangers Cycling Club started 23 years ago with some volunteers and some kids that were identified by the Denver Police department as at risk and it has grown from there," said Front Rangers spokesperson Deirdre Moynihan. "Each year the FRCC has a monthly outreach program from April to October. Some of the youth that have been involved went from participating in the monthly outreach to participating on the Front Rangers Cycling Club's Jr. Racing Team. Interestingly enough, the well known Bannock St. Criterium was created by the family of one of the youth that started as a high-risk kid and became a racer. Cycling helped keep him out of trouble. Unfortunately, Mike Nields died in a sky diving accident and the family started the race in his memory."
The sponsoring groups are providing bikes and helmets for the kids on the Saturday ride.
"Promoting bicycle safety was the second component that we wanted to focus on," Sgt Lovato said. "The Sun Valley neighborhood is scheduled to be going through a transformation over the next five years. They are going to have more connectivity to the rest of the city and the entire grid is going to change. Having various modes of transportation and utilizing bicycles and the designated paths are going to open up different gateways to downtown and the rest on the Metro area."
Sgt Lovato said she hopes the program can spread to other parts of Denver.