PORTSMOUTH — After being fed the ball for a breakaway, a Boys Town player seemingly had an open path to the hoop for an easy basket.
Until, that is, he ran into Deputy Police Chief Brian Peters, who got a hand on the ball and forcefully swatted it out of bounds.
“You know what they call that?” asked Officer Shawn Church, Major Peters’ teammate. “The long arm of the law.”
After sharing a quick laugh, the two teams — Portsmouth Police Department vs. Boys Town — got back to their hard-fought game which featured some impressive outside shooting, bodies banging underneath the hoop and even a little trash-talking.
“Nineteen to 15 — the good guys,” Detective Nick Arruda teased after the cops scored another basket to increase their lead. The first team to score 21 by at least two points would be declared the winner, so victory seemed close at hand for police.
But the boys weren’t through. Comfortable on their home court at the Boys Town New England’s Bazarsky Campus across from Raytheon on West Main Road, the young players clawed back to tie the game at 22. Shortly after that, a 20-foot jump shot put them ahead 24-23.
Detective Arruda, however, ended up putting the game away for the cops with an outside shot of his own. Final score: 26-24.
The game was more than just a friendly competition to break some sweat. It was one of several events held Tuesday for National Night Out which is designed to improve relationships between residents and police and emergency personnel, with the goal of reducing crime and encouraging neighbors to look out for one another.
Although National Night Out was first initiated 31 years ago, Police Chief Thomas Lee said Portsmouth hasn’t participated in many of them over the years.
“It’s just a little bit of community outreach from the police department,” said Chief Lee, adding that the department was invited to play basketball with kids from Boys Town during a cookout with them earlier this year. “We want to show the kids, ‘Hey, we’re not bad guys.’”
Hopefully, he said, police get the message across that residents — particularly teens and young children — can go to the police if they ever need help, he said.
“We want them to see the human side of policing. They see us all the time in the cruiser and sometimes it’s not in the best of circumstances. Let them see us off duty playing ball. It’s just a different experience,” said Chief Lee.
Kelvin Santos, a residential consultant at Boys Town New England, which has five family homes serving 30 adolescents and young children, said the kids were thrilled to have a chance to compete against the police.
“We’ve got some solid athletes here. The nice thing is, we know no one’s going AWOL today,” said Mr. Santos. “It’s a perfect opportunity for the boys to see the police in a different light — come out, play some basketball with them, hustle up and show them that they’re not the enemy.”
Like Mr. Santos said, the Boys Town players were no pushovers. Several of them play competitive ball, including Louis, who’s on the Portsmouth High School team and is entering his junior year.
“It was pretty cool, having them come down here and play us,” said Louis before joining the police for some pizza.
Coffee and ice cream
Basketball wasn’t the only outreach the police took part in Tuesday. The day started with a “Coffee with a Cop” at Portsmouth Publick House. Nine members of the department were there, although they didn’t get much of a turnout from the public.
Resident John Vitkevich, however, made sure the conversation stayed lively. He talked about the potential of a regional police department for Aquidneck Island, the need for more officers on the local force, and the location for the next “Coffee with a Cop.”
“You should have done this on the (Island Park) seawall,” said Mr. Vitkevich.
In the afternoon, two police officers handed out 100 free Hoodsie cups to children in some of the bigger neighborhoods in town, such as Island Park and Common Fence Point.
“The kids had fun. It was great,” said Officer Garrett Coyne, one of the officers in charge of the ice cream.