The Northwestern Wildcats played in the Baltimore City Police Department’s 1st Annual Unity Game, a fundraiser that supports the BPD’s Explorers program for youth 14-21, earlier this year. (Courtesy photo)
Growing up, Genara Lattimore thought the police only came around when there was trouble–or to start trouble. In her neighborhood, they were known as the “jump-out boys.” As a teenger, she’d had her share of negative encounters with the police. So when an officer “jumped” out of his car to buy her an ice cream cone, all she could do was ask, “Why?”
“I was 16 at the time, and I did not like police. I grew up in Whitelock and when I saw police, they were the bad ones,” Lattimore told the AFRO. “But he sat down and started talking to me about random stuff, asking me for my thoughts on how to make the playground in my neighborhood better. I thought, ‘Oh, my goodness. It’s really nice police out there that’s going to help in the community.”
That encounter inspired Lattimore to join the Baltimore Police Department (BPD) as a cadet.
Eleven years later, she continues her journey in law enforcement as the officer-in-charge of the BPD’s Explorers program for youth ages 14-21.
“I believe that the youth is where you start,” said Lattimore. “You can make a difference if you start with the youth.”
For 30 years, Explorers has been facilitating positive encounters between youth and police within the community by providing a curriculum-based program that aims to cultivate youth into productive citizens through career development in law enforcement. The program recruits youth from across the city to interact with police officers in academic and recreational settings to learn about the history, structure, and culture of law enforcement.
“We are empowering the next generation of law enforcement,” Lyn Twyman, Explorers’ program administrator, told the AFRO. “By connecting youth with police we are building a bridge for home grown officers to enter into the BPD that understand the dynamics of the community.”
Beyond creating pathways for youth to pursue a career with the police department, the program’s work is dedicated to strengthening the bonds of trust between youth people and police that have deteriorated–since Officer Friendly left the school system, PAL centers were closed and more and more officers are caught on video misbehaving.
Among the program’s efforts to foster positive interactions between young people and police officers are monthly activities like Hotdogs With A Cop; Coffee With a Cop, ice skating and fundraisers to keep the program running.
Explorers is a community outreach program of the Community Collaboration Division of the BPD, and with support from private and corporate sponsors, Baltimore Police Department is able to sustain this desperately needed youth outreach program. A $25,000 donation from TD Bank has allowed the division to expand the program to a high school in each of the city’s nine geographic districts. Reginald F. Lewis, Patterson Park, Booker T. Washington, Edmondson Westside, and National Academy Foundation are among the pilot schools offering the Explorers pre-criminal justice course as an elective. The course also teaches to the program’s six pillars for success– character development, violence prevention, diversity, leadership, community service and career education.
“Truthfully and honestly, this is overdue. We should’ve been doing this years ago, but you’ve got to start somewhere. And this is a good start. The relationships will get stronger and stronger as we move forward along,” Officer John Hailey told the AFRO at an event held recently at Northwestern High School, another one of the program’s pilot schools.
Tension was thick between police officers and students that day. But all in fun and for a good cause– to raise money to keep the Explorers program going. Hailey and his colleagues played the Northwestern Wildcats in a game of basketball at the program’s 1st Annual Unity Game.
“From my perspective, this is where we should be,” said Hailey, who’s worked in the Western District for 27 years.
“Most of the time they only interact with police when they see us in our official capacity. This is an opportunity for them to see us in a completely different light to where they’re like ‘oh, they really are people.’”