“It’s about doing something positive with young people in our community,” said Toledo Mayor Mike Bell, who spoke Wednesday afternoon in the gymnasium at the East Toledo Family Center during a news conference, holding a basketball at his side.
The program has already begun, running seven nights a week at rotating sites throughout the city: The East Toledo Family Center, 1020 Varland Ave.; the Zablocki Senior Center, 3015 Lagrange St.; the Believe Center, 1 Aurora Gonzalez Dr.; and the Frederick Douglass Community Association, 1001 Indiana Ave.
Off-duty police officers attend games, and patrol units are present as sessions end, said Jan Scotland, president of Toledo Community Recreation. Mr. Scotland said some sites have drawn as many as 100 youths between players and spectators.
Games are geared toward players ages 18 to 24 and run from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m., which can be peak hours for youth crime, Mr. Scotland said.
Several of the city’s most recent homicide victims have been young men in this age group, including Deontae Allen, 19, who was shot and killed Oct. 18, and Jonathan Morris, 22, who was also killed last month.
Such programs have mixed results, said Morris Jenkins, chairman of the University of Toledo’s department of criminal justice and social work. "On the positive side, it does create activities for young people,” he said.
“On the negative side, what about the kids that don’t want to participate in sports?”
Such programs are “a good first step,” Mr. Jenkins believes, but if funding permits, officials should consider expanding it beyond athletics, he said.
Similar programs have been implemented in many other cities. The idea began in Prince George’s County, Maryland, in the late 1980s and rose to national prominence in 1989 when the Chicago Housing Authority and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development organized late-night leagues, according to an analysis of such programs published in 2006 in the Journal of Sport and Social Issues.
The programs came under fire from conservative critics in the 1990s “as symbolic of the shortcomings of liberal approaches to crime prevention,” the study noted.
In Toledo, late-night basketball was offered for about two years, starting in 2001, at The Hoop Basketball & Fitness Facility on Manhattan Boulevard. It was built on city property in North Toledo and aimed to provide recreational opportunities for city youth. The program ended when the facility closed.
Such basketball programs have been popular in part because they are inexpensive to set up, the study noted. The analysis found some association in cities with such programs with decreased property crime, but said further research was needed.
Douglas Hartmann, a sociology professor at the University of Minnesota and the paper’s primary author, said such basketball leagues’ crime-prevention goals can be unrealistic.
When programs are successful, they are part of a broader package of crime prevention efforts and programs, and they must connect participants to other resources, said Mr. Hartmann, who is writing a book titled, Midnight Basketball: Race, Risk and the Ironies of Sports-Based Crime Prevention.
Locally, the program has enough funds to continue for a year, though basketball won'’t run year-round. It will be replaced by various seasonally appropriate sports and other non-sports activities, said Jen Sorgenfrei, spokesman for Mayor Bell. The $60,000 in city funds will cover costs such as stipends for site supervisors and the off-duty officers at the games, she said.
Sgt. Joe Heffernan, the Toledo Police Department’s public information officer, said the program has the added benefit of helping to break down geographic barriers and negative feelings that can exist between youths from different neighborhoods.
“The numbers [of participants] have been fantastic,” said Sonya Harper-Williams, executive director of the Frederick Douglass Community Association, which hosts games two nights each week. She said the games are also a way for her organization to reach youths and let them know what other assistance programs are available from her organization. “If they’re with us, they’re safe and they’re not on the street.”
Games run from 9 p.m. to 1 a.m. at the East Toledo Family Center Mondays and Wednesdays, the Zablocki Senior Center on Tuesdays, The Believe Center on Thursdays and Sundays, and the Frederick Douglass Community Association on Fridays and Saturdays.
For more information, call Jim Gramza at the Zablocki Center at 419-356-1077.
Contact Kate Giammarise at: email@example.com or 419-724-6091, or on Twitter @KateGiammarise.