Law enforcement officials are extending a hand to El Paso County youngsters in hopes of building bridges at a time of deep distrust between police and minorities across the country.

With help from Big Brothers Big Sisters — Pikes Peak, 30 members of the Sheriff’s Office, Colorado Springs Police and Fire departments and other area first responder agencies will be matched with kids ages 8 to 14 primarily from single-parent households in the Bigs with Badges mentorship program.

Danielle Summerville, executive director at Big Brothers Big Sisters Colorado, said the program aims to expose the young people to the human side of law enforcement officials as well as potential careers.

“Our goal is to build long-lasting and trusting relationships with ‘Bigs,’ the mentor, and ‘Littles,’ the mentee, that will spill over into the family and the community,” said Summerville.

Bigs with Badges started nationwide in 2016 as a response to the growing rift between law enforcement and communities of color. El Paso County’s program is the first of its kind in Colorado. Summerville said the region presents an opportunity to be proactive before a major confrontation erupts, such as those in Ferguson, Mo. or Baltimore.

“When people look at police officers, I think it’s easy for them to see us as only enforcers of the law and that’s only what we do,” said Police Chief Pete Carey. “There’s so much more to ensuring our youth in the community are successful. This (program) will be really valuable.”

Deputy Courtney Norman and Sgt. Deborah Mynatt are leading the effort for the Sheriff’s Office. The two are the office’s only members of the Community Relations and Outreach team, which formed in 2015 when nearly 1,000 people were fatally shot by police in the U.S., according to The Washington Post.

“We are one of the largest counties in the state, and we don’t want the community to feel that we don’t want to have the difficult conversations surrounding police-civilian relations,” Norman said. “These kids are growing up to be adult members of the community, so we have to reach to them, too.”

Norman and Mynatt have recruited seven deputies for Bigs with Badges and hope more volunteers will come forward.

At the launch of the program Thursday, community leaders also thanked AT&T for its $50,000 contribution.

Questions regarding the program may be directed to Lt. John Koch 444-7279 or via email kochjo@ci.colospgs.co.us.

Twitter: @lizmforster

Phone: 636-0193

Liz Forster is a general assignment reporter with a focus on environment and public safety. She is a Colorado College graduate, avid hiker and skier, and sweet potato enthusiast. Liz joined The Gazette in June 2017.

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