Friday, April 13, 2012

LAPD officer Ria Garcenila faces off with San Pedro High Police Academy's cadet Karen a friendly basketball rivalry.
San Pedro High Police Cadets Win Fun Basketball Game Against the LAPD

By Diana L. Chapman
  About 300 San Pedro high school students crammed the old gym at San Pedro High School this week -- cheering on their classmates as they struggled to reign in a  basketball game with five Los Angeles police officers. In the end, the cadets won by one point.
   During a raucous crowd of cheering students  -- and with eagerness to slip up the LAPD after a horrendous loss last year by 54 points -- students from the high school's police academy gained more momentum in the second half and won 52 to 51.
   A student-coach for the cadets pointed out that the five officers -- who had no substitutes to pick up the slack -- began to wear down by half-time and that's when he knew his 16  players would beat them.
   "They did great," said 15-year-old Coach Manuel Ortega of his team. "At the beginning of the game, I didn't think we had a chance to beat them. But I saw the officers were getting tired.
   "I was hoping they'd (his players) come back and they did."
   It was looking sticky early on for the cadets as the police officers repeatedly made basket after basket in the beginning of the game. Early on, there was a  20 point gap -- and it appeared the cadets would lose.
   This was something the LAPD officer, Cynthia Deinsten, who runs the school's police academy, didn't want to see happen again.  Her cadets this year practiced several days beforehand and had a coach after suffering a severe defeat last year.
  But the game isn't really what the competition is about. It's a way to amplify to the cadets how human police officers are -- and for the students to see them in a different light. In addition, Deinstein wants to build a bridge between the LAPD and her 113 cadets -- many of whom want to become police officers.
  "The best part that came out of this is it brought all the cadets together from all levels -- all grade levels, said Deinstein, who added that many of her cadets come from other areas in Los Angeles. "They don't often get to work together. I asked the kids: 'Why are we doing this?' They said it's about community.  They realize the community is (not just neighbors) but the schools and the police department."
   LAPD Deputy Chief Pat Gannon, a big advocate of youths, agreed to the basketball game and has done so in the past because he wants to connect teens with his officers.
   "Anytime we can bring officers and teenagers together to play basketball or any other type of activity," Gannon said, "it establishes the foundation for a great relationship. Building these relationships fosters trust in the police and helps young people see officers in a different light also."
   His concept seems to have worked among officers and students alike.
  "It's wonderful to see kids under these circumstances and to make ourselves present and active in the community," said officer Ria Garcenila, an eight year veteran of the department who played against the cadets.  "It was a lot of fun."
   Said Harbor Division officer Jon Rosenblum: "It's worth it. It was good to see how competitive they are and definitely I'll recognize their faces in the community."
   Cadets said they were appreciative of the LAPD officers taking time to come and play a friendly game of basketball. Each time an officer knocked down a student while playing, they helped them back up, checked to see if the cadet was alright and smiled.
   Karen Tovalin, 18, a senior, said she definitely saw officers differently now.
   "It was really a good experience," said Tovalin who wants to become a police officer. "We got to see how the LAPD contributes to our program. We really appreciate them coming."
   Sophomore Hugo Gomez, 16, of South Gate, said: "I am just really thankful they took the time to come out and play with us."
   The police academy falls under the management of the school's magnet program and all the magnet students were invited to attend, said Sandy Martin-Alvarenga, the coordinator.
   "It's a dynamo experience to interact with real police officers in a fun and competitive atmosphere," she said. "The kids love this."