Police Athletic League returning to BR

Local youth will soon see Baton Rouge police officers in a different kind of uniform under a program aimed at curbing juvenile delinquency.

Seeking to boost relations between the Police Department and the community it serves, city-parish officials are resurrecting the city’s Police Athletic League. The newest incarnation of the league will incorporate resources from the Baton Rouge Area Violence Elimination project, an anti-gang initiative that targets the city’s most crime-ridden neighborhoods.

“Unfortunately, law enforcement has a bad public perception in what we do because most of the community only sees law enforcement coming in and making arrests,” said Sgt. Herbert “Tweety” Anny, the BRAVE project team leader. “They don’t see the positive side of it.”

Provisional Police Chief Carl Dabadie said the league will allow officers to serve as coaches and mentors to youth at an impressionable age.

“Usually, these kids just see them in a police role,” Dabadie said, “and I’d like for them to see us in another way.”

The league, which will use Baton Rouge Recreation and Park Commission facilities, could launch in time for basketball season this fall, officials said. It remains to be seen how large the program will be and which age groups will be served.

“We’re still trying to work through the logistics of it,” Dabadie said.

The Metro Council approved $10,000 in funding for the league in a budget supplement last week, but Councilman John Delgado said officials also plan to solicit private contributions to cover expenses such as equipment and uniforms. Supporters plan to seek permanent funding for the league in the city-parish’s 2014 budget, he said.

“We don’t need a lot of money,” Delgado said. “We don’t need to build facilities.”

Delgado said he and Dabadie thought of re-establishing the Police Athletic League while discussing ideas to increase community outreach.

“At some point, kids get too old and they may be beyond hope,” Delgado said, adding he envisions the targeted age group to be 15 and younger. “A lot of this is to reach out to kids in the community that you can still help and show them that the police are not the bad guys.”

The Police Athletic League was formed in Baton Rouge in 1976 under then-Police Chief Howard A. Kidder, who credited the program with making a significant dent in juvenile crime during the summer months. The nonprofit, known as PAL Inc., was headed at the time by former boxing standout Billy Roth.

While city-parish officials praised the program in its early years, the league’s finances drew scrutiny from federal investigators. In 1979, the authorities subpoenaed bank records from the PAL as well as the Southern AAU Boxing fund.

The FBI also made a series of inquiries with businesses regarding donations to the league, seeking to determine the ultimate distribution of those funds, according to newspaper accounts at the time. The league had received thousands of dollars in contributions from bars, banks and other businesses.

As the investigation became public, Kidder insisted that the league’s finances would be found in “apple-pie order,” even as a federal grand jury subpoenaed witnesses. It’s not clear from The Advocate’s archives what became of the federal inquiry, and the FBI could not immediately locate a file regarding the investigation.

George L. “Johnny” Johnston, who served as police chief in 1979, said last week he did not remember any details of the investigation, though he recalled he was not a fan of the PAL.

“I just didn’t think it was the job of the Police Department to baby-sit the kids,” he said. “I thought we ought to be policemen.”