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PAL programs coming to the Five Towns Community Center

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Several Nassau County police officers, including Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder, came to the Five Towns Community Center in Lawrence on Sept. 3 to introduce or re-introduce themselves to area residents and address the re-creation of Police Activity League programs that should begin at the Community Center by the end of the month.

Half a century ago, there was a program known as the Police Boys Club in the area, according to Inwood native Arnold Palleschi, a Hewlett resident who is the vice president of Nassau County PAL, an independent nonprofit organization. “This is an exciting day,” he said to the audience at the Thursday town hall meeting in the center’s gymnasium. “PAL was the best thing that happened in the community. I’m looking forward to rekindling the unit.”

There are 29 existing PAL programs across the county and Ryder said that 30, 31 and 32 are being established in Elmont, Lawrence and Roosevelt. PAL, which originally stood for Police Athletic League, became Police Activity League as the program offered more activities other than sports. The Police Boys Club later also included girls.

Using $25,000 from asset forfeiture, the money confiscated from criminals, the Community Center’s PAL program will begin with help from the nonprofit organization and officer Bobby Varela from the police department’s Community Affairs unit.

“There will be a lot of administrative help,” said Lt. Robert Kiesel, commanding officer of Community Affairs. “It’s about getting the volunteers and the Five Towns Community is a great place.”

Kiesel said that the PAL has “something for everybody” as it now includes STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) programs. Ryder said that the program could include any activity the residents want. Typically, PAL programs are for children from kindergarten to ninth grade, some include young people through high school.

Confronting the elephant in the room head-on, Ryder said the world changed after the George Floyd murder and noted the protests his death ignited, especially the peaceful protests that took place across the county, where there was no property damage, four arrests and a few summonses.

“We are here today to move forward,” Ryder said, adding that the entire Nassau force will be undergoing more extensive training concerning bias and de-escalation. Regarding programs aimed at creating a more respectful relationship between young people and police Ryder said: “We will start with our foundation, our kids.”

That would be with the Youth Police Initiative, which includes sessions where police officers and young people discuss the issues that divide them. “Kids tell police their story and the police speak on how they feel about the kids,” said Det. Sgt. Jo-Ann Distler with Community Affairs. “We are looking to bridge that gap.”

Recognizing that there is an existing disconnect between some communities and the police Ryder said: “We have to listen. We want what the community wants.”

Gregory Stanislau, pastor of St. John’s Baptist Church in Inwood, called the renewed  communication “a breath of fresh air” saying that is how respect and trust are built.

Saying that he is “super excited” for the PAL programs, Community Center board member Pete Sobol spoke about the “concern for what is going on in this community,” as “people not from this neighborhood are creating chaos around here,” noting gang activity and other crimes.

“We will steer our kids in the right direction,” Ryder said in response. “We don’t want other kids pulling them in the wrong direction.”