It was about mid-way through the 25th Police District Faith in Action Night event at La Follette Park, 1333 N. Laramie, when two young girls came up to the table where police officers were giving hot dogs and treats. One of the girls was clearly upset.
"What's wrong?" asked Officer Anna Glutova.
The girl looked away shyly, but her sister filled the officer in. They were playing beanbag toss and one of the beanbags accidentally hit her in the face.
Glutova came up from behind the table, knelt in front of the hurt girl and tried to comfort her. Later, she would let the sisters sit in the police car parked nearby, touch the steering wheel and even turn on the siren.
Those are the kind of positive interactions 25th District officers were hoping for. The May 25 event was just one of the several Faith in Action events held throughout Chicago ahead of the Memorial Day weekend in order to improve the relationships between police and the community.
The officers said that they were pleased with how it turned out. And the residents who spoke to Austin Weekly News said that it was a step in the right direction. They wished the police would do more events like this and interact with the community more.
According to Sgt. Thomas Cotter, the 25th District has been doing Faith in Action events ahead of the Memorial Day weekend for the past 12 years. This year, they set up shop behind La Follette Park's field house. Officers handed out hot dogs, chips and cupcakes. Kids could play beanbag toss, with officers organizing teams — sometimes participating and sometimes letting kids play on their own.
Cotter said that the event was designed to start Memorial Day weekend on a peaceful note, allow officers and residents to connect with each other and make kids and adults "less afraid" of the police.
Regina Holloway is part of New York University School of Law's Policing Project. Their Chicago Community Engagement Initiative works with several police districts, including the 25th District, to ensure that residents have some input in the districts' priorities and strategies, and ensure that both sides work together to provide "safety and equality."
"This event is wonderful," Holloway said. "Look at all the kids and all of the officers engaged with the community. It's wonderful. They're showing a true spirit of service in the community."
Markwell Mooney, a West Side poet and DJ, was one of the several residents who stopped by the event. He said that he thought Faith in Action was a great idea, because it gave the police an opportunity to get to know the people they are supposed to serve in a peaceful setting.
"[The police officers] need to get in touch with the community and see what's [going on]," Mooney said. "When they get a rapport with the community, they know who the neighbors are, how to interact with us. The community — that's the number one thing. We need to have a good camaraderie with each other."
Darlene Williams said that she wants to see police districts conduct similar events like Faith in Action more often.
"[Events like Faith in Action] will not only cause crime to go down, but they will help the kids feel safer as well, especially in the park," she said. "They don't need to worry about no shootings. So I hope it's not the last time [they do it.]"
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