SALINAS, Calif. - The Salinas Police Activities League said Monday its working harder than ever to bridge the gap between young people and law enforcement. It's an issue Salinas is working to improve for decades now.
The city admits trust between officers and the city's youth is a challenge. But the department hopes a new building for the police activities league, will become a breeding ground for better relationships.
The P.A.L. Program in Salinas has been around for more than two decades, yet it's never had a home base. Program volunteers said a new building right next to the police department, is setting the stage for helping more kids see a brighter future.
The program serves as many as 3,000 kids and hopes to expand its reach with new opportunities at a re-furbished building. Salinas P.A.L Executive Director Angel Gonzalez said about $400,000 in renovations created a new space inside the city's old California National Guard Armory. He hopes the building once used during war time, will now serve as a symbol of peace.
"It's about having kids in here, having them off the streets, keeping them away from violence and just bad decisions," Gonzalez said.
The building has a finished gym and computer lab for kids to do their homework. Police explorer Ermelinda Reyes volunteers with P.A.L. and said peace on the streets between kids and law enforcement is put to the test on a daily basis.
"From Salinas, it's very important because we have a lot of crime ad it's usually youngsters. We want to help them get involved with the community," Reyes said.
Building community relations is major issue for the department right now. Earlier this year, parents and kids stood side-by-side, protesting officer-involved shootings. The department of justice has been working with the city and residents, following these heated moments. P.A.L. said it still has a lot of work to do, with a lot of help from volunteers like Reyes.
"When there's activities in the community we take a patrol car out and we handcuff kids, we show them what it feels like. We explain the program to them to see if they're interested in law enforcement," Reyes said.
A recent study by the violence policy center found Monterey County has the highest number of youth homicides compared to rest of the state.
This Thursday, the Monterey County Office of Education plans to explain how $2.8 million in grant money will go toward prevention programs in schools.