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Americorps tries to build bridges with police

ALBANY — An old proverb says that “Youth must be served.” Albany Police AmeriCorps members turned that around Thursday to describe the service they provide to the community.

AmeriCorps Cadet Brian Bell described the organization’s mission at the March Gang Task Force meeting Thursday at the Government Center on Pine Avenue to Mayor Dorothy Hubbard, Albany City Commissioner Jon Howard and law enforcement officers.

“We try to provide a bridge between the community and police,” Bell said. “We talk to residents in the neighborhoods to say it is OK to work with us and the police. We try to teach people how to talk to police and how the police can talk to the community. We try to get everybody to understand each other.”

More formally, Bell said the organization tries to enhance public safety, reduce fear of crime through its presence and increase civic responsibility at the neighborhood level.

Another AmeriCorps cadet, Ashley Fleming, outlined a few of the ways cadets try to help from school age through older adults become resources in reporting crime rather than helpless victims.

“We engraved serial numbers of valuables for seniors at Malone Towers recently. We work with neighborhood watches and pass out information on what to look for in suspicious people,” Fleming said. “To report a crime, people need to know how to make a good description of cars and people.”

Fleming described going to schools where the children’s faces lit up when cadets paid attention to them.

She added that the cadets reach out with a “Stranger Danger” program that teaches children how to protect themselves from inappropriate-acting strangers.

A big part of the cadet mission is providing exemplary models on which youth can base behavior, Fleming added. College student cadets are closer to the age of high school students and more like peer models to youth, she added.

“We show them through ladies and gents days at school how to present themselves. They look up to us as big brothers and sisters,” Fleming said. “It is self-respect not to have saggy pants.”

Among the activities the cadets sponsor are: Bully Awareness Program, programs for guns and gang avoidance, mentoring youth, after-school camps, neighborhood walk and talks, clothing drives and many more including helping with the Youth Summit.

This year’s Family Protection Unit Youth Summit is scheduled for 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Thursday with lunch included at the Law Enforcement Center at 201 W. Oglethorpe Blvd. A few topics to be covered will be property protection, bullying, social networking, gang awareness and Internet safety.