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Annapolis camp teaches kids G.R.E.A.T. lessons: Program encourages gang prevention

By Tim Ebner–Staff Writer
Published July 25, 2008
Used with permission

Unlike most children at 8 a.m., the Annapolis Police Department's summer campers were awake and ready to run in yesterday's final track meet.

While the camp trains children on the 100-meter dash, the shotput and the long jump, it also teaches them an important lesson in gang prevention.

"Whenever you need someone to talk to, you can talk to me," said Annapolis Police Officer Melvin L. Brown, surrounded by elementary and middle school students. "Everybody's been out here early because we care about you." Officer Brown and other city police officers led the day's track and field events in order to teach athletics and self-awareness. The camp is just one of several police camps Mr. Brown runs throughout the year as part of the Annapolis Police Department's Gang Resistance Education and Training Program - or G.R.E.A.T.

Officer Brown first became involved in the national program last year when the department was looking for a way to target loosely organized gangs. The department sent him to Phoenix for two weeks of training.

Since then, Officer Brown has more than doubled the enrollment in the city's program. He first ran a basketball camp in the fall with about 20 children, and yesterday, he had more than 50 runners turn out for the track and field events at the Weems Whalen Sports Complex in Annapolis.

Even though many of the kids seemed more interested in winning the 200-meter relay race or scoring the farthest long jump, Officer Brown said the program provides them with the support of community.

"We teach these kids that we love them, their communities love them. They don't need gangs," he said.

The week-long camp combined physical activities with guidance counseling. During running breaks, the police officers taught lessons on how to avoid crime and violence. One way the officers said the children can avoid gang activity is by continuing to participate in fall and spring sports like track and field.

The campers, many of whom either live in affordable housing or are students in the city's public schools, looked up to Officer Brown and his colleagues as they spoke. Often, the officers would take one of the children aside to offer more than just running advice.

"This is the future," said Annapolis Police Officer Clement Adegbehingbe. He had just finished a midnight shift on patrol, but he said it was important to spend the morning volunteering at the meet.

"I would rather have 50 kids where I know where they are, than not," he said.

Officer Shomar Johnson said the camp was an excellent way for cops to connect with the community. He has served on the Annapolis police force for three years and said he enjoys coaching the campers in track and basketball.

"I'll see the kids on duty, and they will give me hugs and say hello," he said.

For Officer Brown, the program is all about transforming how the children look at their lives and the future. He challenges them to run and think stronger.

"Sometimes if you stay in your environment, you become a product of your environment, so I'm trying to teach them to look outside the box," he said.

Officer Brown said he will continue working with the community to build up the popularity of the G.R.E.A.T. program. This fall he will begin another after-school basketball program and hopes to add new players.

"Whatever I can do to make this thing bigger, I will," he said.

Annapolis photo of kids running    
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