As Sacramento city residents and politicians call for a better relationship between police officers and the community, there is one program in place that is already doing that.
The non-profit Sacramento Police Athletic League includes mountain biking, yoga, boxing, football, skiing, snowboarding and rugby teams.
Fane "Eti" Haungatau is a member of the girls’ rugby team, the Amazons. She’s 16 and a junior at Luther Burbank High School. She says the work by the PAL has had a positive effect on her school and community.
"Rugby's opened up a whole bunch of doors for everybody. There's a whole bunch of opportunities that comes with playing it, especially being part of a good program with good coaches that actually care."
Some of the opportunities include the chance to see colleges and different parts of the country. The program is successful too. The Amazons won the Girls High School Rugby National Invitational Championship last year in Washington.
Mary Jane Pasioles is 18 and also attends Luther Burbank.
"There's a lot of exposure playing rugby like when you go to camps and rugby tournaments, there's a lot of scouts there so they can look at you from that and you can get full rides and stuff playing rugby and that opens up a lot of doors, especially coming from playing in south Sacramento, where we don't have that much money to go to college.”
Sergeant Joe Bailey is one of the officers who helped start the girls' rugby team six years ago as part of the athletic league. He says the events like this weekend's championship tournament are perfect for introducting
"We've already set up meetings with universities and recruiters that will be at this tournament so they can actually see the girls showcase their skills as well as look at their transcripts to see which ones will be viable candidates for possible scholarships."
Players and coaches say people in the community who have recently called for more community policing and communication between the city's police officers and the people they serve would do well to look at the Sacramento PAL as a successful example of how to do both. Pasioles has agreed to play rugby next year at Central Washington University.
"I think it's a pretty big, pretty huge impact, like, not only for our community, but I think if other communities would have what we have, I think it would reduce the crime rates," she says. "I feel sports would be more of a positive impact."
For the police, there’s the benefit of positive interactions with kids and adults from disadvantaged areas of the city. David Tausinga was coaching another rugby team before the PAL asked him to merge squads.
"You know, before, the look was kind of, you know, you're kind of scared of the police officers, you know what I mean? Now, with us combining with the police officers, our kids are not afraid of the police officers no more. And, us coaches, too, we approach them now (instead of) ignoring them when they drive by or when you see them at the store or driving down the street. Now, it's more like 'Hey, how's it going?" and you get a little conversation going on with them."
The Amazons are in Indiana this weekend to defend their national title.