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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
The L. Anthony Sutin Civic Imagination Award is named in memory of Tony Sutin, who served as a founder and deputy director of the COPS Office from its creation in 1994 to 1996. This annual award is bestowed upon a collaborative team of law enforcement and community members whose innovative civic interactions have transformed public safety in their community. The ideal nominee creates community collaborations that are innovative, creative, and transformative; displays civic leadership through problem solving and collaborative partnerships; and promotes public safety through dedication to the community policing philosophy. For the 2018 award, two winners were selected. In Charlotte, North Carolina, the award was presented to Mrs. Tesha Boyd of Promise Youth Development (PYD) and Major Nelson Bowling of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department (CMPD).
How does a community grow past a tragedy? On September 20, 2016, Keith Lamont Scott was shot and killed by an on-duty CMPD officer. The event led to protests and investigations on the national stage, but it also led to growth in the city.
“From this backdrop,” says a representative from the CMPD, “Mrs. Tesha Boyd launched Promise Youth Development in partnership with CMPD’s Independence Patrol Division, with officers spending up to two hours each Wednesday evening mentoring, tutoring, playing sports, or just being a big brother or sister to youth ages 6–18 from an underserved, low-income neighborhood.”
Mrs. Boyd added, “The kids in the program live in high-crime areas and typically see police officers responding to calls in their community way too often. We felt it was important to change their perception and to give them an opportunity to get to know the officers behind the badge.”
Major Nelson Bowling, who has been with the initiative from the outset, reports, "When we first started, the kids were apprehensive around [police], but we were able to form a bond and partnerships. Before you can mentor youth, you have to have a relationship and relationship building is extremely time-consuming, yet rewarding.”
Major Bowling is generally soft-spoken and prefers to give credit to everyone else in the room, but Mrs. Boyd won’t have it: “He knows every kid. They know him. He’s our biggest supporter.” The partnership overcame initial hesitations to include lines of effort ranging from kickball games to summer programming to psychosocial education and wellness activities. Though the portfolio of activities is diverse (and ever-expanding), the common threat is the consistent time and attention that officers, students, and communities members invest in each other.
The repeated contact in a growth-oriented setting has led to authentic relationships between officers and community members, and Mrs. Boyd identifies this as one of the cornerstones of the program. “Today’s youth question everything and want real answers,” she points out. “It has been transformative for the officers and the youth. Jointly, we provide kids a safe place with consistency, authenticity, and intentionality to ensure the success of the kids in the program. We also have a shared goal of positively impacting the kids’ lives beyond calls for service. The bonds and trust that have been formed are unimaginable!”
Major Bowling concurs: “Promise Youth Development built the bridge allowing CMPD Officers to walk over and engage with the youth—it has really touched all our lives.”
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