Cops in a different court: Police organize, play basketball with keiki

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KEALAKEHE — Tuesday found two police officers at a different court than one run by people in black robes.

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KEALAKEHE — Tuesday found two police officers at a different court than one run by people in black robes.

Instead of attorneys, a jury and the judge, the officers had the focus of a group of basketball-playing keiki drawn primarily from the Lailani housing complex.

Hawaii Police Department Community Policing officers Wyatt K. Nahale and Kuilee Dela Cruz both wore shorts and T-shirts as part of the Hawaii Isle Police Activities League. The program seeks to give the keiki an alternative view of the police, said Dela Cruz.

They “see the serious side of police department,” when officers respond to the area for calls for fights or cases, he said. This gives them the opportunity to understand that officers are people, too.

Police and the keiki organized the day in a free-flowing form, sometimes breaking to get water and snacks provided by the officers, who acted as coaches, referees and educators.

Forming the first team of the day took a little adjustment.

“Oh, eh, little kids versus big kids?” said Jesse “Cookie Monster” Anuntak as the teams began to sort out by height, which Nahale adjusted to give the teams a more even mix.

Girls hooped it up, too. Sammie Ioseph hit a game winning shot.

Meanwhile, Tristan Ponce was one of the most committed players, weaving through the competing teams in his bare feet.

The officers have gotten to know many of the children, although not always by their birth names.

“Cookie Monster” earned the name at an earlier event where the rest of the children were playing and he was at the food table, Nahale remembered.

“Trigger” was one who played aggressively in the outer court, while “Freddie” was just a natural shortening of Alfred.

Both officers bring their children to the events when possible.

This led to a new contact for the keiki, who will meet the police officer’s children in school and talk story, Dela Cruz said.

It helps “get these kids in the housing out of the bubble they’re in,” he said.

Nahale also hopes that this encourages the keiki to stay with basketball in school when they get into high school.

Many of these kids are skilled players, he said, but they can find it difficult to break into the year-old social networks built by other players.

Nahale is the school resource officer for Konawaena Middle School.

He said being seen by the same students in and out of uniform has helped them understand he’s a person, as well.

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The HIPAL organization runs other events throughout the community, although the basketball tournaments may be the best known.

They are also planning a basketball tournament in Ka’u for April 9, supporting DARE Day on May 13 in Kailua-Kona and a walk to support Special Olympics in Waimea.

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