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Pittsburgh Police And H.O.P.E For Tomorrow Working To Improve Community Relations

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- Some would say there's a deep divide between police and communities.

Pittsburgh police and a local summer camp are trying to change that by starting with the way children and teenagers look at and feel about law enforcement.

It's an unlikely connection that seems to be working between young children, even teenagers. Many are thrilled to see men and women in uniform, more specifically, a police uniform.

"It's true connection. It's not anything that's forced," said Keysha Gomez, co-founder & executive director of H.O.P.E For Tomorrow.

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KDKA recently spent a day with kids in the H.O.P.E For Tomorrow summer camp. It's a non-profit organization in the city that focuses on building a positive connection between children and the community. Their special guests on this day — Tiffany Costa and Jonathan Bradford, both Pittsburgh police officers. The two are part of the bureau's Community Engagement Office.

"There's so much happening in the real world between police officers and the community. And we're really focused on relational policing in the Pittsburgh police. Getting to know people, building relationships, building trust," said Costa.

"My dad told me that if I want to make a change, be a part of it," said Bradford.

For Officer Bradford, that's every day. It's a goal of his to work with kids and show them that officers are more than intimidating figures with a badge on the chest. They're a resource, someone to go to, a friend.

"When we get done talking, they're like, 'Oh, you're one of the cool cops, I like you,'" said Bradford.

Some kids have come to the camp with a negative view of officers, but with time and personal interactions, things changed.

"We've done tutoring with the officers, cooking classes, we've made dance videos," Gomez said.

The change can be seen and felt. But we're still not where we need to be. There's been a rise in gun violence this year, specifically with teens. Most recently in the city's South Side neighborhood, a 15-year-old boy was charged in a shooting that left three men injured.

"I think what we need to start with the kids is when they're young, and help them create a frame of mind and philosophy where they never want to pick up a gun," said Costa.

Gomez said kids here have been directly impacted by the violence. Some lost family members and friends.

"It breaks our heart, and we realize we have to do more because we can't keep crying. The tears have to stop and if playing kickball with the police stops it, we're going to keep doing that," said Gomez.

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