Page 44 - March 2021
P. 44

 15th District officer creates
a safe space for kids to play games
15th District Youth Liaison Officer William Martinez re- called working in the impact zone, which is the district’s worst area, and the times he would take a break at the local park to play basketball with young students.
Martinez would always try to make conversation about favorite sports, athletes and games with the kids to bridge the gap between police and civilians, but one group of male students stood out to him. When the boys said they liked to play Grand Theft Auto and NBA 2K, Martinez, who is a gam- er, wanted to learn more.
“I asked them what system they play on,” Martinez shared. “And they paused. They got real quiet.”
Martinez had a gut feeling he needed to get an answer out of the kids. So over the course of two weeks, he subtly brought the question up again by asking to exchange game tags so they could all play NBA 2K. Finally, one of the boys, who stayed later than the others, offered a rather unfortunate
“He said the drug dealers run an apartment that has a
television and games,” Martinez said. “That’s how the drug dealers would get the kids — like, ‘Oh yeah, you like the new games, the Xbox, you have to work for me.’”
Martinez tried to find out where the apartment was lo- cated, but the boys wouldn’t say. But he would never for- get hearing about how underprivileged kids, who wanted to play games like other kids their age, did not have a safe place to do so.
So when he became the youth liaison officer, Martinez knew what the first step to making a difference would be: Hip Hop Tuesdays, a safe space where kids could play games and do homework.
“I said, ‘I’m going to create a program and I need six big- screen TVs, three Xboxes and three PlayStation 4s,’” Mar- tinez remembered telling his supervisor. “But I was told I would need to get the funding myself.”
And that’s exactly what Martinez did — he sent out letters and talked to several companies to see if he could receive contributions. Walmart donated more than $5,000 to buy the items, so he took the check and went to an electronics company to buy the TVs and games at cost. With other fund- ing, the department bought a popcorn machine, snow-cone machine and hot dog steamer for the kids to enjoy snacks.
Hip Hop Tuesdays started in the summer of 2019, with about 30 to 40 kids in attendance every week. But the pro- gram was paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and Mar- tinez was given the green light to resume the program on Jan. 26 with a limit of 10 kids and two officers at a time.
“A lot of my regular kids don’t come anymore because they are raised by their grandparents, who are at high risk for COVID-19,” Martinez said. “So I’m doing Zoom calls to check in and keep in touch with them until I can have my larger numbers [at the weekly event] again.”
O e F p a
t t
a t B u i
    The students, who arrive at 4:30 p.m. after school, are directed to finish their homework before playing games or watching a movie. There are also onsite tutors helping the students who need extra attention. Officers will even follow up with teachers and parents so that if a student claims to not have homework one week, they will find out by the next.
Martinez still receives about $2,000 every year through partners to keep Hip Hop Tuesdays going. This year, he was
able to buy a table-tennis table, giant 4 in a Row Connect f game, giant Jenga game and giant checkers. And members
of Assumption Greek Orthodox Church unanimously voted s to donate laptops to the program in February. k
One of Martinez’s most memorable moments of Hip Hop o Tuesdays is the success of the peace circle, where the kids i take turns talking about anything that comes to mind. n
“They talk to us about anything,” he said. “By just hang-
ing out together, now if something goes on, they can remove th that fear and actually tell [officers].”
Martinez credits his time interacting with children on the sw playground as his inspiration for the program and for help-
ing him realize what kind of officer he was meant to be. “Becoming a friend and then a mentor and seeing it play out is amazing,” he said. “I joined [the police force] to make
g f
a difference, and at the time I thought that meant making e arrests. But as a youth liaison officer, I’m making a bigger A difference by stopping the youth from getting in trouble be- p fore the arrest happens.” t

   42   43   44   45   46