MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) - Memphis Police Director Toney Armstrong and more than a dozen of Memphis' finest are taking a unique approach to school crime, hoping basketball can help reduce violence.
When Director Armstrong was promoted, he said he wanted his officers to take a community approach to policing. He says that approach must start at a young age. So he and Memphis' finest are taking on a group of Memphis' brightest with a basketball game at Memphis high schools to bridge the gap between cops, kids and crime.
"I believe in community policing," Director Armstrong tells abc24.com. "Community policing is about establishing relationships. If we have to go do that one school at a time with these students, then that's part of our community policing initiative."
Armstrong was front and center among hundreds of Oakhaven High School teens as his officers took on the school's teachers and alumni in the first of its' kind basketball game.
The baskets, the cheers, even the half-time dancing all served as ice breakers for the officers to get personal relationships with the teens.
"I'm hoping they can see us in another light," says Armstrong. "So often they see us in enforcement mode, authoritative mode. Here they can see us in a relaxed atmosphere. They can see there is no difference between us and them."
17-year-old Oakhaven Senior, Eric Maxwell, says having the officers, off-duty at his school, makes a big difference.
"Getting to meet them, they are actually good people," Maxwell admits.
He says it will make a big difference for other students too.
"It should be a good thing for them, a big effect," he says. "It should make them think about their decisions, maybe make them think about joining the police squad."
The basketball game is just the first step. The officers will come back to the school on October 20th and meet personally with students. They'll talk about bullying, truancy and other problems the teens could be having.
Armstrong says this will open the door of communication.
"There has to be a trust level with these students and the police officers, they have to feel comfortable communicating with us. As we move through the city, we're hoping that we continue to establish relationships and build that trust level."
Oakhaven was the first school for the community outreach basketball program. Armstrong hopes to get the program at every high school by the end of the year.
The officers ended up losing to Oakhaven teachers and alumni 75 to 82.