Community program helps NY officers engage with young people

This program outfits every patrol car in the county with a sports bag to give officers another way to engage with youth in their communities


By Rick Pfeiffer
Lockport Union-Sun & Journal, N.Y.

NIAGARA FALLS, N.Y. — It wasn't a sight you'd expect to see on the basketball courts at Legends Park in the Falls on Wednesday morning.

A New York State trooper, in full uniform, squaring off with a Falls teen in what looked like a modified game of horse.

Not long after, Falls Police Administrative Lieutenant Sandy Arist was spotted teaching a toddler the finer points of dribbling a basketball that was almost as big the little girl.

Doug Rifenburg, the founder and executive director of Victory Sports Global Outreach, looked on approvingly.

"That's what the program is," Rifenburg told a group of TV news photographers. "That's the picture you want. It's about an officer seeing a kid on a corner, grabbing a ball and engaging with that kid."

Fresh off of a two-year partnership with the Buffalo Police Department doing just that, Victory Sports and representatives of all the law enforcement agencies in Niagara County announced that they would begin a similar program here. The program will outfit every patrol car in the county with a sports bag that contains a basketball, football and soccer ball, to give officers another way to engage with youth in their communities.

"We started four years ago to use sports to impact our community for the good," Rifenburg said. "It's a way to build bridges with kids in the community. We feel there's no better tool than sports to build relationships."

Niagara County Sheriff Michael Filicetti praised Victory Sports for reaching out to local law enforcement after what was viewed as a successful approach in Buffalo. The not-for-profit works to provide sports equipment for children who otherwise cannot afford the equipment or may be denied opportunities to participate in sports, due to the cost of equipment.

"We wouldn't be able to do this program without Victory Sports," Filicetti said. "Community outreach is a significant part of what we do on a daily basis. With help from Victory Sports we are able to reach out to our kids and build relationships. This will be a great opportunity for all of our law enforcement agencies."

Victory Sports outfitted 85 Buffalo Police patrol cars with their sports bags. The organization expects to provide an equal or greater number of bags of equipment to the Niagara County law enforcement agencies including the sheriff's office, Niagara Falls, Town of Niagara, Town of Lewiston, Village of Youngstown, Town of Somerset, Village of Middleport, Lockport and North Tonawanda police departments as well as the New York State Police, New York State Park Police and the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation police.

 

Falls Mayor Robert Restaino called the program a new approach to policing.

"Law enforcement is more than simply going out and finding those people who want to violate the law," he said. "Law enforcement is about going out into your community. Having the opportunity through the generosity of Victory Sports to engage with youth in our community through sports helps to foster positive relationships with our police officers, creating a healthy relationship with law enforcement."

Falls Police Superintendent John Faso said finding new and creative ways to build relationships between youth and law enforcement can lead to a safer community.

"We know that having the opportunity to walk up to kids in the city of Niagara Falls and engaging with them, in a positive way, can make all the difference," he said.

(c)2021 the Lockport Union-Sun & Journal (Lockport, N.Y.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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