When the Peekskill chapter of the NAACP hosted a Friday bowling night they asked members of the Peekskill police force to field a team or two. Chief Eric Johansen and three officers joined them Friday, July 29, at Cortlandt Lanes.
“I was out walking in the downtown and saw Martin McDonald who said he had something he wanted to talk to me about and he prefaced it with ‘it’s nothing bad’. We’re planning a bowling fundraiser and would like to know if you and some of the people in the department would want to come as a way to socialize,” recounted Chief Johansen.
In my career, I’ve always seen that it’s the police reaching out to build relationships. I was impressed that he took the initiative,” said Johansen.
Club secretary Toni DuBose said the idea came about after a recent panel discussion with members of the black community and the police. “We decided this was a way to open communication in a social setting. We’re trying to provide a way for the two communities to get to know each other.
Patrolman Nick Franco, a 13-year veteran of the Peekskill police force, said, “these types of outreaches are the only thing that’s going to save our country. We find out that everyone wants and needs the same things,” said Franco.
“It’s an opportunity to do more than talk about solutions, we can actively be part of the solution and that requires participation, not posturing and pontification,” said McDonald, president of the chapter, to his membership in encouraging them to attend the fundraiser.
Sixty people attended the fundraiser, which raised $1,000 for the chapter. The funds will be used to offset the cost of the annual gala. This year’s Freedom Fund Gala will be Oct. 28 at the Colonial Terrace and will feature Hazel Dukes, state president of the NAACP.
Michelle Cooper, a Peekskill resident for a little over a year, was at the bowling night at the request of her friend Aaron Moore who is a member of the Peekskill NAACP. She was the former secretary of the Ossining chapter of the NAACP and is now involved in voter registration efforts. She said she was interested in building relationships with people as she encourages them to register to vote before the October 11th deadline in order to participate in the general elections. She said voter registration forms are available at the Field Library.
Spending time in the community is nothing new to Andre Wright who has been on Peekskill’s police force for 16 years. He’s the community relations officer and said he’s interested in building bridges in any community. Rounding out the police department’s foursome was Brandon Kruithof, president of the PBA. “We need more of these type of events,” said Kruithof who has been on the Peekskill force for six and a half years. He welcomed the opportunity to socialize with adults. “We’re usually doing these kind of events with kids,” said Kruithof.
“It’s an opportunity to get to know us outside of the uniform. When we see people in everyday activities, they are usually in need because they’ve called the police. This is a chance to foster good community relations,” added Kruithof.
For Jeannie Williams, who was visiting Peekskill from Brooklyn, the evening gave her a chance to support the idea. Her son is a police officer in New York City and her brother is involved in law enforcement. “I love the idea. When I was growing up in Brooklyn, we all knew who our community cop was and it made a big difference,” said Williams.
Peekskill NAACP member Wesley Lucky said the evening of bowling is very simple but it’s a chance to build trust. He also said he wanted to support his friend Martin McDonald and make sure he’s part of something positive.
In encouraging members to attend, McDonald said the evening was a chance “to know the police, and we want them to know us. This can plant the seed to de-escalation, because now you know me on a more personal level,” he said. “We can’t hear you if you are not here. Come and be part of the building bridges to build better community.”