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Through Anti-Gang Summer Camp, Austin Police Reach Out to a Younger Generation

Miguel Gutierrez Jr.
AUSTIN, TEXAS- July 19, 2016. David Natal and Itzel Mendoza listen as Tactical Flight Officer Steve Lindsay explains the mechanics of an APD helicopter.

This week, students from across the city are getting the chance to interact with Austin police in a summer camp called Gang Resistance Education and Training, or GREAT.

The camp is part of a larger program to reduce gang activity in Austin.

At Martin Middle School, rising fifth graders were taking a tour of an Austin Police Department helicopter at one of several events scheduled for GREAT camp this week.

AISD Police Officer Pablo Reynaga said the free camp aims to give students the opportunity to interact with police officers.

“We touch base on respect, communication, how to deal with anger. And the biggest thing right now, you know, there’s a lot of bullying going on, and we teach...also to be anti-bully, and what to do in those type of scenarios," he said.

The camp is an extension of the program taught during the school year at seven AISD elementary schools and nine middle schools. Reynaga said that the summer camp reinforces values taught during the school year like self-esteem and community service. 

Credit Miguel Gutierrez Jr. / KUT
AUSTIN, TEXAS- July 19, 2016. Ryan Campbell stands on a helicopter at Sam L. Martin middle school during a recent visit from Austin police officers.

All the students here have completed a six-week program for fourth graders and applied for the opportunity to participate. Ten-year-old Timiya Jackson said she likes having the police officers teaching the camp.

“Our two, they’re really nice, and they’re really fun, and they don’t get mad if we do something wrong. They tell us to keep trying,” she said.

Credit Miguel Gutierrez Jr. / KUT
AUSTIN, TEXAS- July 19, 2016. Students from the Sam L. Martin middle school learn about an APD helicopter during a recent visit by police officers.

Given recent controversy surrounding police interactions with people of color, the camp is also an opportunity for officers to make an impression on children from those communities. Detective Ty Neal says this is an important component of GREAT.

“It’s a great program to give kids the chance to interact with the officers and vice versa, and in a different light than what we work on on a daily basis, so they don’t see us just as officers out here doing our job, they also see us as officers trying to help them become better citizens,” Neal said.

The program is part of a nationwide initiative, which Austin adopted in 2007. Now, more than 1,700 AISD students participate. The week’s itinerary includes presentations on making choices and resisting gangs and a visit from the Austin Fire Department. The camp will culminate on Friday with a graduation ceremony for the students. 

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