Officers take 'game' to the streets

Cpl. Kyle Eaves looks surprised as one of neighborhood kids makes a shot during Sunday's impromptu basketball game.Officer Rodriguez PorterCpl. Kyle Eaves
Staff Writer

In the last three years, incidents involving police officers across the country often have put the men in blue in the crosshairs of public and media criticism. Even the much-publicized introduction to the Grammys Sunday night made reference to police shootings.

At almost the same time that was happening on national TV, two West Point officers were doing their part to illustrate police in a different light. So much so that a mother's Facebook post had gotten dozens of "likes" and "shares" by Monday morning.

While on patrol Sunday afternoon, Cpl. Kyle Eaves and Officer Rodriguez Porter drove up on a couple of kids playing basketball at a street-side goal in a quiet neighborhood on Belvedere Street just off Eshman.

Instead of ignoring the kids, the two took advantage of a lack of calls to stop and interact.

"It was a little slow so we just decided to get out and play," Eaves said. "At first the kids weren't real sure what to think but when I asked if we could play ball with them, they were good to go."

What started out with two kids attracted two more by the time the officers were done.

"It was sort of like everybody on everybody," Eaves said of the pick-up game that went on 30 minutes. "Whoever got the ball would try to score or pass to someone. I think we won one and they won one."

The interaction caught the eye of neighbor Cheryl Craft, among others. Craft snapped a couple of pictures on her phone and posted them to Facebook.

"Love to see cops interacting with children! Sending a big thanks to these two cops who put big smiles on these kids faces today!! WAY TO GO WPPD!!," she posted with a heart symbol for emphasis.

Craft heard voices out front of her house and when she went to investigate, she saw the officers hooping it up.

"It's not something you see everyday so I wanted to recognize the two who took the time to do it, to show the kids that cops aren't bad. I thought it was really neat," Craft said.

"I've gotten lots of comments. One neighbor just moved in in November, it was her son and nephew who were out playing, and she was so appreciative of the officers and the neighbors," Craft continued.

The officers say such stops are part of their routine when time permits. And Chief Avery Cook encourages it.

"I usually try to get out and talk with kids and play with them, show them that we're not bad," noted Eaves, who has been with West Point for three years after two years in Columbus.

"I usually try to do it at least once a month when things are slow. I think it's an important part of what we do. I've done it at Ridgewood, at Little and Griffin streets, at Jim James Court...played football, basketball. It's harder in the winter with the weather," Eaves stated.

"Being part of the community is important. Things like this do more for us than just about anything. The kids will remember it, their parents will remember it. It can't do anything but help," Cook said of the impromptu example of community policing.

Others also noticed. Craft said another neighbor came out and took pictures of the fun. Another nearby resident drove up to thank the officers.

Street-side basketball goals have been the source of complains in some towns. West Point leaders have received them sporadically.

"We don't have much traffic on our street and parents or older residents are out all the time watching. Besides, it brings the neighborhood together when parents and kids are out playing and talking," Craft said, adding, "It's not a big issue."

"If we get a complaint, it's usually that the kids aren't moving out of the way. If we get something like that, we'll usually go sit and watch for a minute to see what the kids are doing before we get out and talk to them," explained Eaves.

"We get out and explain to them or we even play with them to demonstrate what they are supposed to do, get out of the way and be safe, let traffic go by," he continued.

The biggest beneficiaries of Sunday's hoop action may have been the kids themselves.

"They thanked us when we were done. They told us to come back," Eaves said. 

"They better come back. My kids were upset that they weren't there to play, too," Craft said of her three children.