By Micheal Rios, Tulalip News
In communities nationwide, a remarkable shift is taking place to emphasize trust and understanding between urban youth and their local law enforcement agencies. The power of these positive interactions cannot be overstated, as they have far-reaching and, sometimes, even life-changing benefits for the community and the officers who serve it.
At the heart of this shift is an improvement of community relations. Building positive interactions between youth and law enforcement may seem like a daunting task, but it can be achieved with something as simple as a video game tournament. Such was the case in late August at the local Tulalip Boys & Girls Club, where the first of its kind ‘gaming with a cop’ tournament brought together youth from all around Snohomish County and their local police officers.
“This event was the culmination of weeks of planning and preparation by multiple Boys & Girls Clubs who wanted to ensure our kids ended their summer break with a fun, exciting, and truly memorable event,” explained Club Director Shawn Sanchey. “Each club had multiple practices, partnering up two club kids and a cop as a team to compete in a Rocket League tournament.
“This has most definitely reached the top tier level of just pure excitement in regards to the activities and events we’ve hosted. After seeing all the excitement and how much enthusiasm we got from both the kids and the cops, it’s obvious we need to continue to grow upon this success and keep the community engagement going,” he added.
Once the actual e-gaming tournament kicked off, law enforcement representatives from Arlington, Everett, Lake Stevens, Lynnwood, Mukilteo, and Tulalip were swept away by the youthful spirit that filled the B&GC Teen Center. The dedicated first responders found themselves swimming in a sea of contagious competition, where they weren’t alone. They had their teenage teammates as life preservers, carrying them to one score after another in an X-Box-based digital landscape.
For those unfamiliar with Rocket League, it’s a high-powered hybrid of arcade-style soccer and vehicular mayhem with easy-to-understand controls and fluid, physics-driven competition. Still not picturing it? Well, just imagine you and two friends are playing a soccer match against another team of three, except you’re all driving cars. Got it? Good.
Promoting positive interactions between youth and law enforcement goes a long way to building trust, respect, and an open line of communication within our 22,000-acre reservation. By doing so, it reduces the likelihood of misunderstandings, conflicts, and negative stereotypes, leading to a more harmonious relationship between Tulalip’s law enforcement and its growing residential population.
“Being a part of the community response team within the Tulalip Police Department, when I heard of this idea to join up with youth to compete against other cities, my initial reaction was what an amazing idea,” shared Officer Carrington. He’s served TPD for over three years now. “For me, being able to create positive interactions with kids and let them know that our priority is to protect them was why I wanted to become a cop in the first place. Being able to spend time with them in a fun setting, share stories, or even just hand out stickers can create moments that last a lifetime. I know I won’t ever forget this day.”
Positive interactions with law enforcement inspire young people to consider careers in law enforcement or related fields, which can help to diversify and strengthen the future of community policing locally. Experiences shared during the Rocket League tournament may have empowered a young individual or two to dream of becoming a cop one day, especially if it means leading an e-gaming team to victory one day.
Twelve-year-old Israel Ford was the living embodiment of this notion as he was routinely seen asking cops from each agency for those impossible-to-miss gold-colored, sticker badges. At one point, his white t-shirt was covered in them. “These are my badges of honor,” he declared to all those within earshot. His vibrant energy and collection of gold badges helped fuel his three-person team to the tournament title, and gold 1st place trophy.
“This was so much fun. Our cop carried us to the championship. He was really good and caught a lot of teams by surprise,” said 14-year-old Ashton Bullock of the tournament-winning Mukilteo team.
As it turned out, Adam Hodges, community resource officer for the Mukilteo Police Department, was a Rocket League sleeper. He admitted to having more than 2,000 hours played, which served him well in eliminating one team after another.
“These new age video games require so much brain power, hand-eye coordination, and team strategy in order to be successful,” said Officer Hodges. “Me, Ashton and Izzy played quite a bit in the weeks leading up to today so we could learn each other’s playing styles. This win comes with a lot of bragging rights, for sure, but more importantly, it comes with a bunch of shared memories filled with laughter and excitement. In a way, that makes everyone who participated in this tournament winners.”