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2023 HERS Main PhotoAn innovative, groundbreaking effort to improve communications between teens and law enforcement took place on July 20, 2023. The "Law in Your Community" event garnered the participation of enthusiactic teens and Bessemer law enforcement officials with the objective to improve relations between individuals aged 11 to 18 and the police force. The event featured hands-on training sessions covering federal, state, and local law.

In the spirit of friendly competition and camaraderie, Bessemer teens and members of local law enforcement teamed up for an exhilarating game of kickball. Two student captains selected their teams, handpicking players from a lineuplawcom2of Bessemer police officers, firefighters, and local teens. With no time to waste, the participants strategized and collaborated with their teammates, all aiming to claim the title of "The Law in Your Community Kickball” winners and earn well-deserved bragging rights.

Sponsored by the UAB Minority Health & Health Equity Research Center (MHERC) and the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE), this interactive session unfolded at the Bessemer Recreation Center on Thursday, July 20th, drawing enthusiastic teenagers and law enforcement officials. The goal of "The Law in Your Community" event was to help young individuals aged 11 to 18 enhance their communication with the police through hands-on training on federal, state, and local laws. The kickball game provided a refreshing and enjoyable way to bring teens and law enforcement together, united on the same team. The welcoming atmosphere encouraged meaningful discussions and established a framework for potential relationships between the community members and police officers.

After some intense rounds of kickball and a little time spent on the dance floor, the group excitedly transitioned from the gymnasium to a meeting room for "The Law in Your Community" training session, which was led by Chief Henry Irby, the President of the Alabama chapter of NOBLE.                                During the session, Chief Irby emphasized the importance of building relationships between the community members and the police, explaining that he is “hoping that the kids understand that law enforcement officers come from the same communities that they do.” While encouraging children and teens not to fear the police, Chief Irby also provided guidance on how to handle encounters with officers if they ever face mistreatment. Chief Irby led the group in a collaborative activity that helped identify and define the four functions of the police: enforcing laws, preventing crimes, responding to emergencies, and providing support services. The children actively participated and were given the opportunity to showcase their creative skills, using posters and markers to illustrate the task at hand.

Just a few steps down the hall, was another session for parents also dedicated to improving the relationship dynamics between the community and law enforcement. Titled "Bridging the Gap Community Tour", this conversation was led by Jefferson County Sheriff Mark Pettaway as part of the Bessemer Building Healthy Communities (BHC) Coalition meeting. The session provided an open platform for participants to freely express their opinions and work together on community-driven solutions. Local law enforcement officers underscored the importance of relationships with the community and expressed a hope that community members of all ages feel comfortable going to the police with their problems. The announcement of the police department's plan to install cameras around Bessemer to prevent crime sparked excitement among the attendees.

This transformative event, sponsored by the MHERC, NOBLE, and the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office, displayed a growing relationship between community members and law enforcement that they are dedicated to nurturing in the future. The Bessemer Chief of Police, Chief Mike Wood, affirmed the importance and impact of events such as this one, saying that they do the valuable work of “changing one kid at a time.” The event stands as one among many achievements of the Building a Better Bessemer project, which encompasses various initiatives. These include an After-School Program focused on teaching children social and emotional skills, Community Gardens that provide raised flower beds for Bessemer residents at Charles F. Hard Elementary school and the Bessemer Housing Authority, and an Augmented Community Mural highlighting Bessemer’s rich history scheduled for completion in Summer 2024. The MHERC and NOBLE are excited to continue supporting the people of Bessemer to reach the goal of making their city a healthier and safer community for all residents.


From left to right:
Lori Bateman, PhD, RD Assistant Professor, Division of Preventive Medicine, Heersink School of Medicine; Mary Browning, Program Administrator II, Minority Health & Health Equity Research Center (MHERC); Roy Harris, Vice President, Alabama Chapter of National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE), Lynneice O. Washington, District Attorney, Jefferson County 10th Judicial Circuit, Bessemer; Sheriff Mark L. Pettway, Jefferson County; Chief Henry Irby, President, Alabama Chapter of National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives (NOBLE)