KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Kansas City Police Athletics League (PAL) is one of 300 PAL organizations throughout the United States and is one of the most successful and active chapters in the country.
Kansas City PAL is an after school program hosted by the KC Police Department at a community center where kids are invited to come eat a warm meal, hangout, play sports and hopefully strengthen relationships with the community’s police officers.
In the summer when there is no school, KC’s PAL opens up a little earlier and even used to hold summer classes from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. throughout the week before COVID-19 restrictions. On average, the chapter serves about 300 meals to kids ages 8 to 18 every week.
KC PAL Supervisor Sergeant Skip Cox believes the organization is an extremely significant tool in building relationships with the community, especially in areas where tensions between citizens and the police are high.
“It’s great because those kids that see us in a different light might end up thinking ‘Hey you know what, maybe all cops aren’t bad,’” Cox said. “Then they can go home and actually become our allies in their own homes and help break down those barriers with mom and dad or whomever they live with that may have a bad view of police.”
“Most of the time cops are involved, it’s not someone’s best day. So this helps them to see us with a different perspective.”
After the kids eat dinner around 4 p.m., they head outside to hangout and play sports with the officers and volunteers. The kids are able to choose from a long list of activities including boxing, martial arts, soccer, football, basketball, running club and others.
The organization is staffed entirely by the Kansas City Police Department and volunteers, and funding is handled by the KC PAL’s Board of Directors. Each board member is internally selected and must bring one of three T’s to the table: time, talent (coaching, mentoring), or treasure (funding).
According to Cox, the KC PAL has done $4 million worth of renovations and improvements to the facility along with an additional $2 million raised for operating costs since 2012, all fundraised by the Board.
Because of how successful Kansas City’s PAL chapter is, they have presented at every PAL national conference over the last decade to discuss with other chapters what has and hasn’t worked for them. Sergeant Cox often travels to speak about his work with PAL and in October of 2019, he was invited to New Zealand to speak about KC’s proven programs and procedures to help improve their version of the program.
Although there is a $10 annual membership fee, the fee is often waived if children or their families are unable to pay it. Kansas City’s program also helps with transportation as they use 15-person vans to give rides to and from the facility for kids who otherwise would not be able to make it.
“What PAL helps us do is to organically see the kids and the families in their environment and it makes sense for them to respond to us the way that they do,” Cox said. “I don’t have to condone the behavior, I just have to understand it. And if I can truly understand it, then I can be part of the solution and actually try to solve that problem. That helps me get grounded back into why I wanted to be a police officer in the first place, to help people.”
“While it’s great for community members, the kids and the families, it’s equally as great and important to the police officers who are involved in the program,” he later said.
The KC PAL has been the model that numerous chapters follow across the country including several in Missouri. Since 2012 when Cox got involved, St. Louis County, St. Louis City, Kansas City, Kansas and Springfield have all adopted similar programs.
When asked what makes him so passionate about working with the Police Athletics League, Sergeant Cox simply answered, “Well, it’s easy to be.”
“There is no justification for kids to grow up in some of the environments that our kids grow up in,” he said. “So if you’re around these kids and you learn of their challenges that they face on a daily basis, it’s impossible to not want to be involved 150%. I don’t know how you couldn’t be fully invested.”
The community center is located at 1801 White Ave. and Cox encourages all kids or families to come hangout. Those interested in volunteering at the Kansas City Police Athletics League can visit their website for more information.