ORLANDO, Fla. — A program in Parramore has taken proactive steps in reducing crime by building relationships between local youth and police.
Attendance for the "Ballin after Dark" program soared this summer, and crime among youth in that area is lower than last year, although the city can’t directly connect the numbers to the program.
Gino Nicolas, 23, grew up in Parramore and welcomes Friday nights inside the downtown rec center playing basketball with cops.
“I’ve just been back a couple weeks and I think this is it right here,” he said.
No age is turned away, as the city hopes the interaction scores a long-term reduction in crime and stronger relationships.
“Basically, we found basketball is a great connection for us, for all of us,” said Deputy Chief Eric Smith of the Orlando Police Department.
“It allows people to get in touch with police officers, you know, get to know them on a personal level rather than when they’re at work patrolling,” Nicolas said.
Overall crime in Parramore is down more than 10 percent from last year, records show.
There were drops in drug calls, murder, robbery, burglary and theft. Car thefts were down 43 percent.
Smith said there’s still work to do. Sex offenses, aggravated assault and kidnapping have shot up.
“We start early enough. We get them, they make great decisions and they’ll be a successful contributor to society,” said Smith.
“We feel safe and we are just having fun at the end of the day,” Nicolas said.
As Friday night high school sports crank up around the area, the city is looking into additional mentoring opportunities in the community this fall.