A Community, On and Off the Ice

two children hockey teams

What do community policing and ice hockey have to do with one another?

In Hawthorne, California, a great deal.

Hockey dad and Hawthorne Police Department Community Relations Sergeant, Chris Cognac, had a dream of making a traditionally expensive sport accessible to a community of less privileged children and their families; children and families who may have never been on the ice before, or ever considered hockey as their sport of choice and who needed more afterschool options. Sergeant Cognac's idea—the Hawthorne Force youth hockey team—was not just about making hockey accessible to those Hawthorne youth living in an underserved community not far from the LA Kings practice rink, but about using the principles of community policing—building relationships—to create a collaborative and proud community of families and law enforcement cheering on the young and newly minted hockey enthusiasts.

three hockey players and a refereePutting together the Hawthorne Force has been an effort of dedication and creativity. Cognac first started looking for money to pay for the expensive gear required to play hockey—that's when he found the National Hockey League Players' Association (NHLPA) Goals & Dreams Fund. His grant proposal resulted in the NHLPA providing 20 sets of youth sized hockey equipment and the beginning of a great partnership and relationship with the NHLPA. Matthew Langen, manager of Community Relations and the Goals & Dreams Fund at NHLPA, said that the proposal really resonated with them because it was community based, and eliminated the financial barriers for kids who would otherwise not have the opportunity to play hockey. Local businesses and organizations donated money to pay for ice rink time, and through advertising at the local school, approximately 100 children, aged 4-7, intrigued by the invitation to give hockey a try, showed up to an open skate session to learn more about the sport. The kids that decided to give it a try signed up and were issued equipment after signing a code of conduct agreement with their parents and the team. And that's when things really began to take off.

Through continued outreach and fundraising efforts, now with the help of a supportive parent base, ice time was paid for and the team held a series of clinics, teaching the kids how to skate, and how to play hockey. Six Hawthorne Police Department officers volunteered to coach and the team was also opened up to the children of officers and city employees who paid a fee, which helped buy more hockey gear and equipment. The community started to take notice. Players from both the LA Chill hockey team and the University of Southern California Women's Hockey team came to practices and helped run them. Local travel league youth hockey players also wanted to help at practices. So many people wanted to help and support the team that a volunteer sign up system had to be adopted. The community took pride in the startup team, and the relationships between kids, families, law enforcement, and the community grew stronger through the support of the team. The team expanded to 26 players, thanks to the community funding and donating additional gear. The NHL LA Kings also partnered early on with the Hawthorne Police Department to help find equipment and raise awareness. Chris Cotty, the LA Kings Director of Fan Development said that it has been fantastic working with the Hawthorne Police Department and the Hawthorne Force and that as an organization, the LA Kings also benefit from having closer ties with the community of Hawthorne and being able to introduce new people to the sport of hockey.

One last step was to put the team's new skills to a test in a game. Through the efforts of the NHLPA, the LA Kings, and the Hawthorne Police Department, the Hawthorne Force played their first game—the NHLPA Goals & Dreams Cup—on January 6, 2014. The Hawthorne Force Red played the Hawthorne Force Blue with guest coaching by the LA Kings' Matt Greene and now Edmonton Oilers player Ben Scrivens (formerly of the LA Kings). The Hawthorne Police Honor Guard kicked off the game, and the LA Kings sent in their mascot and game crew, to make it look and feel like a real NHL game, which was well and enthusiastically attended by the community and covered by local media.

children playing hockeyWith their first game under their belts, the Force hasn't looked back. They recently played a game against the Toyota Sports Center team, and Cognac, with the support and partnership of the LA Kings, NHLPA, and the community, is expanding the team to add an 8–10 age group. They are also working on ways to make this community policing/youth hockey model one that can be duplicated across LA County, and across the country. Chris Crotty said that they are excited about the potential for duplication with other neighboring law enforcement agencies, and the potential of connecting with those local communities. In addition, the NHLPA is poised to help other agencies across the nation that are trying to bring the game of hockey to underserved kids in their communities through the same sort of model. Since 1999, the NHLPA has provided equipment for over 60,000 children to play hockey, and they hope this program spreads through the United States and Canada so that more children, who otherwise might not have the opportunity, can learn to love the game of hockey.

The most remarkable result of this program, and the initial intention when Sergeant Cognac began to work on it, was the creation of a sense of community and civic pride in Hawthorne and the bonds that have been created between law enforcement and the community. It is no longer an “us versus them” perspective, but a welcoming and collaborative family of hockey enthusiasts who have worked together to build a team. Those relationships, built in the spirit of community policing, will serve the community and law enforcement well as they work together to address any public safety issues, or community concerns, and a generation of Hawthorne youth will not only grow up loving the sport of hockey, but with close relationships to their local law enforcement officers.

Kimberly Brummett
Staff Writer
COPS Office

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