As the sun set over the Elm City on Wednesday, about 75 New Haven residents and members of the New Haven Police Department came together to play a basketball tournament in Edgewood Park.
The event, dubbed “Cops and Ballers,” was part of National Community Policing Week, an effort by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Obama administration to strengthen relationships between law enforcement officials and the communities in which they work. Members of the police force, attorney’s office, Yale New Haven Hospital and the New Haven community played basketball and participated in a bicycle helmet giveaway, face painting and arts and crafts events. Though a bicycle parade was canceled due to a poor showing of cyclists, the basketball tournament was well-attended, with 14 teams composed of four to five basketball players, said Peter Markle, an assistant U.S. attorney for the state. He noted that almost every district manager in New Haven was in attendance at the event, though not necessarily on the court, in addition to officers of every rank.
“We can play, we can work, we can have fun together,” Markle said.
The tournament featured rounds of four-on-four basketball games that happened simultaneously at opposite ends of the court. Each team, a mix of community members and law enforcement officials, was identified by a brightly colored T-shirt.
Deirdre Daly, the United States attorney for the district of Connecticut, who was in attendance, said that she came up with the idea for the event.
“I love basketball,” she said. “We have a basketball tournament in our office and we thought, what are events that will bring us together?”
When she suggested the idea to interim New Haven Police Chief Anthony Campbell ’95 DIV ’09, he responded, “I’m all in,” she said.
Daly said she was inspired to create the event because she has been thinking about creative ways to bridge the divide between police officers and communities of color.
“The basketball court has a really leveling effect,” she said.
According to Daly, the city is working hard to engage New Haven residents in discussions about community policing. There was recently a forum in which police and prosecutors informed community members about the process of investigation that police officers undergo when they are involved in a shooting. And last month, police officers chatted with community members over breakfast fare outside St. John’s Episcopal Church in East Rock, at a “Coffee with a Cop” event.
Daly was pleased with the turnout at “Cops and Ballers,” saying that she would like to plan the event again soon, perhaps even on Yale’s campus.
The NHPD spread the word about the event through school officials, in addition to encouraging beat patrol officers to invite community members themselves, Campbell said. He added that it is important that community members have interactions with police officers that are not just arrests.
Justin Roselle, a New Haven police officer from District 9, said he played with two community members on his team, which won against the downtown district early in the tournament, but fell in the semifinal round.
He was happy to see everyone representing their own district and getting competitive.
“It’s good to interact [with community members] outside of the uniform,” he said. “You know, that builds trust.”