Building trust: Detroit PAL's critical conversations program strengthens police-community bonds

Friday marked an important day for the Detroit Police Athletic League (PAL) as they host "PAL Day," a fun-filled event for kids who have just completed a seven-week program focused on building relationships with law enforcement.

Despite the scorching weather, the competition on the field was even hotter as dozens of Detroit middle schoolers battled for bragging rights at the Corner Ballpark.

PAL Day is about the fun for the students while also teaching them a valuable lesson about policing in the community. It emphasizes the concept that everyone is part of the same team, breaking down the barriers between the police and the community. Eighth-grader Natalia Chappell expressed her appreciation for PAL and acknowledged the positive impact it has had on her. 

"We've had a lot of fun with PAL and critical conversations and things like that. I actually appreciate some of the things they do for us," she said.

Behind the scenes, PAL Day signifies the conclusion of the Ford Critical Conversations program, a seven-week initiative designed to educate Detroit middle schoolers about the roles of police in our neighborhoods and foster better interactions with them. 

"Over time, little by little, as they saw the heart of the officers and as they learn and see different perspectives, you can see not only their knowledge increasing but their connection with the officers increasing," said Detroit PAL CEO, Fred Hunter.

One significant outcome of the program is the change in perception and trust towards law enforcement. Corporal Marcus Norwood, a former PAL student and now a mentor to the next generation, emphasizes the shift in attitudes.

"A couple of students said they would never pose with a police officer on social media before this program. Now, that opinion has changed, and we feel good about that," he said. 

Last year, less than 60 percent of Critical Conversations participants expressed trust in law enforcement, but by the end of the program, that number rose to over 80 percent.

"I wasn't very fond of the police. Kept my distance. Stayed away," Chappell said about her thoughts on police. "It's still neutral, but I know that all police officers aren't pictured how they seem. I know that they're cool and nice and that you can have interactions with them."

As this year's Critical Conversations program concludes, the hope is to expand it nationally and continue fostering positive relationships between law enforcement and communities. The impact of PAL Day and the Ford Critical Conversations program serves as a testament to the power of education, understanding, and shared experiences in breaking down barriers and building trust in our neighborhoods.