After 9 years, ‘Cops vs. Kids’ basketball event still serves a purpose in St. Anthony

 

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The “Cops vs. Kids Basketball Challenge” is a free event and is set to take place from 6 to 9 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 23, in the gymnasium at St. Anthony Village High School, 3303 33rd Ave. N.E. 

Chief Jon Mangseth said he’s expecting up to 100 spectators at the annual event and all are invited to watch as St. Anthony cops face determined teams of boys and girls in fourth through seventh grades. Mangseth chuckled as he noted the kids usually win.

Police look to engage community 

“Basketball as a tool” — that’s how the St. Anthony Village Police Department is approaching an upcoming community event. 

On Feb. 23, many of the department’s officers, who, in addition to St. Anthony, patrol Lauderdale and Falcon Heights, will spend their day off on basketball courts at St. Anthony Village High School. 

The “Cops vs. Kids Basketball Challenge” is nothing new for the department — this year will be its ninth annual — but the department is putting a little more stock into it, according to St. Anthony police chief Jon Mangseth. 

Mangseth was 47 when he rose to the chief’s position last summer. He recently sat down for an interview to discuss police-community relations. 

 

‘Now more than ever’

In the weeks that followed Mangseth becoming chief, St. Anthony police officer Jeronimo Yanez shot and killed Philando Castile, an African-American man, during a July 6 traffic stop in Falcon Heights. 

This incident, along with other police shootings of black men around the nation, led to public outcry about racial profiling, protests and increased scrutiny of law enforcement procedures and training. It also resulted in the forming of community action groups in Falcon Heights and St. Anthony, and heightened tensions between local communities and the police departments that serve them.

Acknowledging that the current climate of police-community relations is “sensitive,” Mangseth said the department needs to “continue its goal” of reaching out.

“Now more than ever,” he said, “we’re in a position where we need to be engaged in our communities.” 

 

‘Positive impact’ 

According to Mangseth, the police department, which is undergoing a federal review by the Department of Justice’s office of Community Oriented Policing Services, or COPS, “has historically been geared towards community engagement.”

“In light of the past year and what’s going on now, I haven’t noticed officers step back from wanting to participate in these types of activities,” Mangseth said of the upcoming youth basketball event, which is being organized by police and crime prevention officer Jim South. 

“So often we find ourselves dealing with the more negative aspects of how things are impacting our community’s residents, so to be able to engage in activities that are fun and have a positive impact on our communities really adds a lot of balance and enjoyment to our occupations.”

Mangseth said he and the department’s officers “subscribe to the idea that community engagement helps us as officers find balance in our careers.”

 

Human to human

“That balance is important for everyone,” said Mangseth, who has been criticized by residents and groups such as Black Lives Matter and St. Anthony Villagers for Community Action for defending Yanez after Castile’s death. 

Mangseth decided to let Yanez come back to work “on desk duty only” last August, while the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension was still investigating the fatal shooting. 

Though Yanez was not allowed to patrol the streets, his very presence inside the police station prompted more than 100 people to show up outside City Hall for an all-day protest of his return Aug. 19. Shortly after the protest, Yanez was placed back on paid administrative leave.

In November, Yanez was charged with second-degree manslaughter for killing Castile and two counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm — he fired his handgun seven times into Castile’s car, which was also occupied by Castile’s girlfriend Diamond Reynolds and her 4-year-old daughter. 

Ramsey County Attorney John Choi characterized second-degree manslaughter as the “highest provable” charge.

With his department under the microscope, Mangseth wants the “Cops vs. Kids” event to be an opportunity and environment where folks can “simply see each other as people.”

 

‘In a different light’

“It is about the kids, interacting with them, playing basketball and having fun,” Mangseth said of the annual event that pits a handful of local traveling basketball teams against police officers who volunteer to participate. The youth teams, which are selected through a lottery by the St. Anthony Basketball Association, are made up of boys and girls in fourth through seventh grades.

According to South, between 10 and 12 officers are usually able to make it to the event. 

But it’s not all just for the fun of the game, Mangseth emphasized. 

“It’s also about letting the kids get to learn who their police officers are, and allowing our officers the chance to get to know them in return.” 

Mangseth explained that when police officers and community members work to know each other as people, the relationship between the two is strengthened.

According to the chief, it’s not uncommon for his officers, who he said want to be approachable, to take time during their regular patrol activities to stop and interact with kids and adults on a friendly level. 

“But to actually get involved in events like this, where officers can fully step away from their responsibilities and really dedicate a little bit of time to really interact with members of the community in a different light — that’s important,” Mangseth said.

 

Jesse Poole can be reached at jpoole@lillienews.com or at 651-748-7815.

 

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