Vallejo Police Department: Basketball Was Just the Bait

The COPS Office is pleased to feature the May 2016 winner of the Community Policing in Action Photo Contest—The Vallejo (California) Police Department. Their winning photo features Sergeant Brenton Garrick attempting a layup shot during a basketball game with area youth.

Many kids love sports, and for six weeks during the summer of 2015, Vallejo, California, youth played basketball through the early hours of the morning. “iBallVallejo” offered more than 400 kids an opportunity to hang out with one another and play basketball at no cost to them or their parents. But it was about more than just basketball.

Less than a year before iBallVallejo became a reality, Andrew Bidou began as Vallejo’s police chief. Bidou, who had spent his entire career in California law enforcement, realized that to be successful in Vallejo would require building strong partnerships with community members. Vallejo was in the process of rebuilding after filing for bankruptcy in 2008 and positive relations between the police and the community were at an all-time low. With a significantly smaller police force than in previous years, the Vallejo Police Department (VPD) lacked the resources it needed to effectively serve its constituents.

“Just two years ago, everything went by the wayside except our emergency response. We were figuring out which emergency to respond to first,” shared Chief Bidou. “Neighborhood Watch was an important resource.” In just two years, Vallejo has gone from having just 30 Neighborhood Watch groups to 257. “What we’ve found is that Neighborhood Watch has been the apparatus to develop communication and to think about policing by what neighborhoods need, because neighborhoods are different. It’s also been our apparatus to recruit people to work with us. It’s been eye opening.”

In addition to growing Vallejo’s Neighborhood Watches, Chief Bidou has developed a particularly special relationship with the faith-based community. Prior to taking on the role as chief, he contacted Reverend Danté Quick of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church to indicate his commitment to partnering with local places of worship. Over lunch the two made a commitment to stay in contact and support one another.

Shortly after Bidou became Chief, Quick introduced him to the community at a “Know Your Rights Forum” hosted by New Dawn Vallejo Community Development Corporation and the National Bar Association. During that meeting, Quick recalled that over 100 young people of color surrounded Bidou to pray for his success and safety and the safety of the Vallejo police. “That kicked off his term here. And since then, if there has been an incident, he has had a network of community members who support him.”

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That strong partnership led to the creation and success of iBallVallejo. The brainchild of Rev. Quick and the New Dawn Vallejo Community Development Corporation, iBallVallejo was about more than just basketball. “Basketball was just the bait and we knew the kids would fall for the bait,” said Quick. “Once we got them there, we knew we could transform their lives.”

With VPD officers, local politicians, and community leaders working together, iBallVallejo provided an opportunity for Vallejo’s young people to learn about conflict resolution and sexual health, sign up for GED courses, and even enroll for healthcare coverage. VPD officers worked in a nonenforcement role, which allowed them to engage with youth in informal ways. Many officers brought their own children to the event.

Sergeant Brenton Garrick, featured in the winning photo, has been working with Vallejo’s youth for years and saw iBallVallejo as the perfect opportunity to fill a longstanding void between the VPD, young people, and their parents. “There was some apprehension as some of the kids didn’t want to reach out and talk with the officers. Parents were both receptive and hesitant—they wanted to make sure their kids were telling them the truth about the event. Once they saw the amount of personnel there, they felt good about leaving their kids in good hands. At the end of the six weeks, it was almost babysitting for us.”

Sgt. Garrick emphasized the importance of attitude when dealing with youth. “I know how to communicate with kids and I’m not afraid and I don’t have an elitist attitude. I find areas where I can meet the kids halfway.”

iBallVallejo’s success wasn’t short-lived. “We’ve got anecdotal evidence of kids who played basketball [at iBallVallejo] and have had experiences with VPD since. In one situation, officers pulled over some kids and things became tense, but once the officers and kids recognized each other, the situation de-escalated,” Rev. Quick shared. “Resolution was brought on the streets.”

Chief Bidou is eager to participate in more programs for Vallejo’s youth and shared that VPD will continue to rely on community partnerships to make these types of events happen. “We are proud of what we’ve been able to do with very little. We’re becoming the city that people look to as a model—hey if they [Vallejo] can do it, you have no excuse.”

The COPS Office congratulates the Vallejo Police Department for being one of the 12 winners of the COPS Office 2016 Community Policing in Action Photo Contest and for its commitment to community policing.

Written with contributions from Vallejo Police Chief Andrew Bidou and Sergeant Brenton Garrick and Reverend Danté Quick of Friendship Missionary Baptist Church, Vallejo. Photo courtesy of the Vallejo Police Department. Photo taken by Mike Jory.

Najla Haywood
Special Contributor
The COPS Office

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