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Chicago Police officer takes teens on camping trip, providing a safe place amid dangers

West Side Chicago kids camp with cops for Memorial Day weekend
West Side Chicago kids camp with cops for Memorial Day weekend 02:09

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The prevalence of gun violence during Memorial Day weekend in Chicago is a concern every year, but a Chicago Police program is actively working to change that.

From city life to the great outdoors, a Chicago Police officers headed off Friday to take teens from the West Side camping for the weekend.

City life is always busy, and often noisy," said Mikey Malarski, 17.

That is why Malarski and more than a dozen youngsters are changing scenery this weekend.

"I'm kind of nervous," Malarski said. "I've never been, like, very far from the city."

Oranges and watermelon, Cheetos and Doritos, Sour Patch Kids and Swedish Fish, water and soda, and assorted supplies were loaded into a 15-passenger van late Friday. Officer Will Martinez of the Austin (15th) District prepared to drive two hours west with the young people.

They'll be camping at Woodhaven Lakes in Sublette, Illinois just south of Rockford off Interstate 39.

Camping with a cop had a clear purpose.

"All the youth that you see around you – they're actually involved with different programs at the 15th District," said Officer Martinez.

Joshua Torres lives in the West Side's Austin community.

"I see a lot of things, you know, that's dangerous - a lot of shootings, a lot of drive-by's," he said, "I try my best to stay safe and be in the house so nothing bad will happen to me."

Torres started hanging at the Austin District police station when he was 7. He was part of the Officer Explorer Program.

Ten years later, Torres is voluntarily choosing to hang out with the officers for the Memorial Day camping outing.

"It's more safe," Torres said. "I feel like there's not a lot of - I'm not in danger where something bad is going to happen to me if I step out."

The Memorial Day weekend unofficially kicks off summer. Yet in Chicago, it has also proven to be deadly and violent – which is exactly what prompted the Austin District to start the camping outing four years ago.

"My goal was as long as they put in the work in building up their community, I wanted to give them a safe place," said Officer Martinez. "So we take them from here, uproot them. They're in a safe place – it's a gated camping ground. They can roam around. It's more fun for them."

The outing allows the young people to escape the violence and build bonds.

"Officer Will - I don't see him as a cop," said Torres. "I see him more like a father figure."

"We're part of the community, and we just want to build together," said Officer Martinez. "We're building bridges all together."

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