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PAL program begins in Elmont

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When Elmont students were producing a video advocating more police presence at community events last November, several residents were already working with Nassau County police officials to increase their participation in the community by bringing a Police Activity League back to Elmont.

They announced the creation of the league, which seeks to prevent juvenile delinquency and build positive relationships between police officers and the children in the community, that month, and registration for its arts and sports programs, which begin next week, is now under way.

“It’s a win-win situation for the residents and the kids of Elmont,” said Jon Johnson, president of the Elmont Cardinals Sports Club, noting that the PAL program is “not just about sports; it’s about bringing resources to the community.”

Elmont has not had such a program in about 25 years, Johnson said, since its PAL moved to Franklin Square, which many found too far to travel to every week. As a result, Raymond Ramos, a security guard at Elmont Memorial High School, said, he often sees students hanging around the school building after hours, or spending their free time at McDonald’s.

“They don’t have much to do when they leave,” Ramos explained. “There’s no place for them to unwind.”

So, as thousands of people across the nation were protesting police brutality and systemic racism in the wake of the police-involved killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis last summer, Johnson and Ramos were speaking with Nassau County Police Department officials about revitalizing the PAL program in Elmont, a majority-minority community. By doing so, Ramos, who is also a retired New York City police officer, said, Elmont residents would feel that the police really are part of the community, and would therefore have more faith in them.

It would also help the NCPD improve its community engagement, something for which every municipality in New York is required to develop plans by April in order to continue receiving state funds, under an executive order Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed into law in June. Last week, Police Commissioner Patrick Ryder presented county officials with the department’s 310-page draft proposals for increasing community policing, which, among other initiatives, lists the Elmont PAL program as a way to improve interactions between police officers and people of color.

In 2018, Elmont had 3.19 times more Black residents than any other ethnicity group, at 45.4 percent of the population, according to the U.S. Census. Black men are about 2½ times more likely to die at the hands of a police officer than white men, according to a 2019 study by Northwestern University, and Black women are about 1.4 times more likely to die than white women.

“The NCPD agrees that increased interaction between police and the community is one of the strongest tools for building bridges and creating trust between officers and residents,” the department’s draft proposal reads. “Accordingly, the NCPD will host PAL-sponsored community events, barbecues and additional education and awareness programs.”

Each program will have one supervisor and 12 police officers, Ryder said, and each of the nearly 25,000 children in the program throughout the county will be able to take advantage of the basketball courts at the Police Department’s new headquarters at Nassau Community College.

Additionally, Ryder told the Herald, Elmont residents will be able to use the New Hyde Park Police Activity League facility for sports programs, and can take advantage of several virtual programs during the winter.

The Elmont PAL was funded by $25,000 in asset forfeiture, he noted, and will provide children with “safe and fun” activities for which their parents can sign them up online at the Elmont PAL website. The classes this winter include art, sports fitness, tennis, volleyball, indoor deck hockey, badminton and indoor golf as well as tee ball, baseball and girls’ softball clinics.

“It’s taken off, and it’s gotten a lot of attention,” Ryder said of the Elmont program. “Just in a short amount of time, we were able to implement it.”

“It’s a start,” added Ramos, “and if they can continue to go in this direction, the community can have faith.”