Police, children forging relaxed partnership at summer camp program

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Rock-climbing, swimming and finger-printing are on the agenda for 50 Pittsburgh children who today will begin a summer camp that the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police is conducting.

This morning, city officers on buses, and one or two in a department car, will pick up the children at their homes and drive them to the Community College of Allegheny County's North Side campus.

There, they will be divided into groups and paired with police officers, who will guide them through a variety of activities ranging from finger-printing to talks about drugs to lessons on what to do if they encounter a gun.

"The whole object of our program is to get the kids interacting with police so they don't feel afraid," said Pittsburgh police Officer Angela Garrett, who works on the bureau's youth programs.

The children wear matching uniforms -- jerseys and shorts -- and spend the day with their groups. Officers wear similar T-shirts, rather than their uniforms, to help the children feel more comfortable.

Some will take a break from their normal duties this week to show the children footprint casts or how to take their fingerprints.

"We bond so quickly," Officer Garrett said. "It's beautiful."

This camp is the second of three sessions offered this year in the Cops & Kids Summer Camp.

The first was at Duquesne University, and the next will be at the Schenley Park ice rink.

The bureau has been coordinating the camp since 2007. It's free for Pittsburgh children ages 10 to 14, who are invited to attend on a first-come, first-served basis, Officer Garrett said.

Registration is closed this year but is usually advertised in local schools and churches, Officer Garrett said.

She said the bureau uses donations to help cover many of the costs. Each of the venues donated the use of its site this year, and the Pirates and Riverhounds donated tickets, Officer Garrett said.

Exactly how much the program costs the bureau is unclear. Officer Garrett said she did not have that information. Pittsburgh public safety spokeswoman Sonya Toler said those details were not immediately available.

Yvonne Burns, dean of student development at CCAC, said this was the first year the school has played host to the event.

"We were excited to embark on another opportunity to reach out to the community," she said.

Ms. Burns said she thought offering the camp gave the school a good opportunity to teach children about the importance of education and about opportunities available to them through the Pittsburgh Promise, which provides scholarships for students, and she said she supported the idea of trying to bring children and police closer together.

"The objective of the camp is to help the youth develop and maintain a positive understanding and perspective of law enforcement," Ms. Burns said. "As you and I both know, that is so needed within our population of youth that are engaged in too much crime."

Liz Navratil: lnavratil@post-gzette.com, 412-263-1438 or on Twitter @LizNavratil.

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