Police league hopes to keep kids shooting hoops, not each other

Police league hopes to keep kids shooting hoops, not each other

PORTLAND, Ore. - Gang shooting reports are up more than 50 percent from last year, and Portland police - trying to stop the violence - are turning to sports to give kids an alternative to gang life.

The Police Activities League is trying to keep teens safe by keeping them off the streets and on the basketball court.

It's estimated that Portland is home to more than 2,000 gang members, and the hope is that the next generation is more interested in working on their jump shot than in turning to violence.

You might not think of three-pointers and fast breaks as gang prevention but talk to 14-year-old Tyler Fowlkes and you'll learn what he faces growing up in east Portland.

"Some of the people not at the youth center, but are around, are really into the gang-related stuff, and so it's kind of like peer pressure," he said while playing basketball with others at the Police Activities League Youth Center on Friday.

If he wasn't running the court, the Reynolds High School freshman would probably be at home on his computer. But that's not his only option.

"You always just have somebody trying to have you join a gang, or drink with them or smoke or go to parties with them," he said.

Fortunately for Tyler's family, he'd rather play hoops. And at the youth center, gangs, drugs and alcohol aren't tolerated.

"When you are here, you're not gang-affiliated you're just a kid," said Jay Williams who runs youth center.

During the day the gym is open to all ages. Then between 50 and 70 teens take over at night.

"In some of the neighborhoods they don't feel safe but when they're at PAL they know they're safe," Williams said.

Williams played at the gym when he was a kid. He said when gang crimes go up, so do the numbers at the gym.

"Some of these kids are living in the gang-affiliated areas and they know a lot that's going on, so they’ll start letting us know what's going on in the community," he said.

The staff keeps kids safe with security guards, and off-duty officers sometimes stop by the gym, which makes Fowlkes' parents feel even better.

"They really like me coming here because it's an alternative from doing drugs and stuff like that, and it's really safe to be here," Fowlkes said.

Kids who play are asked to promise not to join gangs. The basketball league runs Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights through August.