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Inside the Story: 'Best dressed' police department focuses on connecting with youth

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Inside the Story
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(KUTV) South Salt Lake Police was recently named the Best Dressed Police Department in the nation by the National Uniform Association.

But, the department said there's much more to them than just looking good.

The police officers are committed to connecting to the youth in their community.

They hold a boxing program through the Police Athletic League that aims to get kids off the streets and allow them to throw punches without getting into trouble.

"It's helped me calm down," said Jesus Guzman, one of the boxers. "Especially when you come here to practice and stuff, you can take your anger out on a bag if you got issues."

"I have to stay focused and I have to stay motivated," said Daniel Melgar, another boxer.

It's not just all about boxing. Officers are also taking to the bowling alley once a month with youth ages 8 through 18.

"I can't believe that this is part of my job, actually," said Sgt. Bill Hogan with South Salt Lake Police.

Activities like this one helps officers build trust with the kids.

"Let them know that we enjoy doing stuff just like they enjoy doing," Hogan said.

And it seems to be working.

"They are not as scary as everyone thinks they are. And they are super open, they talk to you," said Taylor Vantassell, who participated in a police bowling activity.

The program also offers a variety of other activities for kids, including after-school mentoring during the school year.

According to Chief Jack Carruth, these program are just the start of building trust.

"Making that connection, a sincere connection, so not just creating programs and marketing 'this is what we're doing,' but actually getting involved and making a difference," Carruth said.

According to South Salt Lake Police, the youth crime rate is down 64 percent between the hours of 3 p.m. and 6 p.m.

"We're giving them constructive things to do, versus destructive behavior. So, we're keeping it positive," Carruth said.

And in a day and age when police relations are sometimes strained with the community, it only makes sense to start with the up-and-coming generation.

"We want them to be successful, we want them to talk about going to college, we want to help them get there," said South Salt Lake Mayor Cherie Wood.

Last year, more than 2,500 youth went through the programs. The city claims that has had a direct effect on graduation rates, which went from 48 percent to 64 percent.

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To learn more about the youth programs with South Salt Lake Police, visit its Police Athletic League website.