Baseball is a great equalizer. It brings people from all different ages, races and backgrounds together for one reason: to have fun while playing or watching a game.
That driving theme could be witnessed Wednesday’s game at Target Field. It’s no secret Minneapolis’ north side has a reputation for being a rougher part of town. But still, many good people and programs are shining through.
One is the Minneapolis Police Department’s Bike Cops For Kids. Started in 2009, the program took officers off the streets and into the communities in a new way: on bikes and in schools.
Officer Michael Kirchen is a school resource officer at Lucy Laney Community School. He explained just by being in the building a lot of violence and behavior problems are reduced. However, that’s not the only objective of the program. They’re also bridging relationships with the kids and their families.
“We try to show these kids cops are good. Just a small part of what we do is arrest people. We help the community and we like helping kids,” Kirchen explained.
When school is out, the officers spend their summers on bikes connecting with kids. They try to show there’s a different side to the department than riding in squad cars, responding to calls and sometimes making arrests.
They provide bike helmets and water bottles to kids playing in their neighborhoods. It helps the officers get to know the kids and the kids to know the officers.
A unique part of the job also allows the officers to take the kids to Twins games. At Wednesday’s game Officer Dave O’Connor from Edison High School, Officer Gary Duren at Olson Middle School and Officer Kirchen took three students from Edison to the game.
Seeing three uniformed Minneapolis officers with teenagers from the north side is sure to turn some heads in the ballpark’s exclusive Champions Club.
“We don’t usually take the kids in full uniform,” Kirchen explained. “Today’s a work day, so can’t be in street clothes. Dressing like this definitely attracts more questions from fans.”
The questions are welcomed. The program isn’t paid for through tax dollars but rather donations from Mike and Ann Ciresi, the Phillips Foundation and Children’s Hospital. Many times fans will see the benefits of the program and donate their unused tickets to the officers.
The officers can pick the kids they want to take. Sometimes the tickets are a reward for good behavior during the year, other times the tickets are offered to kids who have been suspended as an incentive to build a better relationship with the officers.
Often, the kids who come to Target Field with the officers are there to see their first Twins game in person.
Bobby Washington had never been to a Twins game before. He said, “I was on my way to work when I ran into one of the officers who worked at my school. He asked if I wanted to come, I said I’d make it.”
Lined up along the dugout, this first class treatment didn’t go unnoticed. The Champions Club has unlimited hot dogs, ice cream and a giant table full of candy for the taking. Still, the three students said, hands down, their favorite part of the game was getting to meet the players.
“We got autographs from Trevor Plouffe, Brian Dozier and Scott Ulger,” said Washington’s younger brother Levon, showing off his keepsake. “Joe Mauer didn’t sign it. He’s my favorite player, but I’ve never seen him up close before.”
From seats just a few rows behind home plate, the students and police officers got a real close look at the game.
Like Washington, freshman Tyler Daily was invited to the game by the school resource officer he walked the halls with in middle school last year.
“It’s a little weird being at a Twins game with them,” he admitted, “but it’s fun because we all like baseball.”
The students said they liked having the officers in their school because they help keep everything under control in the hallways. Though, they did admit it can be embarrassing when the officers say hi if they’re walking with friends.
“But they’re real nice,” Washington said. “We’re not scared of them.”
The program continues to be a success. Off the clock, the officers are moms and dads with families of their own living in the same communities. Spending time with students serves as a reminder they’re regular people who sometimes have a tough job to do.
“We want to define our career not just as the amount of 911 calls or arrests we make, but by what we’re able to bring to the job,” Kirchen said. “We do this because we want to help people. This is an extension of helping people and letting them share the positive experience.”
You can learn more about the Bike Cops for Kids program and see what other activities they’re active in by visiting their Facebook page.