This preseason, the Buffalo Bills and the Buffalo Police Department (BPD) teamed up to give dozens of inner city children an opportunity to witness a Bills game live – many of them for the first time.
On Sunday, Aug. 26, as the Bills welcomed a familiar AFC opponent, the Cincinnati Bengals, to Orchard Park, Buffalo police officers, along with representatives from the Buffalo Peacemakers and Victory Sports, were thrilled to attend the game with over 50 kids from the city's East and West Sides. The outing marks the second instance this preseason that the BPD has brought guests to New Era Field. Through ticket donations by the Bills Community Relations department, the BPD has been able to connect with Buffalo youngsters by providing them a day of fun.
"We brought about 15 kids to the first game [against the Panthers] and they had a ball," said Buffalo Police Captain Steve Nichols prior to Sunday's matchup. "You guys were generous enough to give us a bunch more tickets for this game – we have a total of 56 tickets…A bunch of [the] kids have never been to a game and [it] may be a long time before they ever could afford to go to a game, so we really appreciate it."
The outreach is just one of the many ways the BPD is connecting with the community through a new program focused on developing positive relationships, explained Captain Nichols.
"This is part of our overall initiative," said Nichols. "We recently, under Commissioner Lockwood, created a program, a 100-day program for now but it's going to continue to grow. It's called the Buffalo Police Neighborhood Engagement Team (NET). The whole concept of that team is to get out in front of everything and just engage the community so that people understand that we want to partner with them and we need to partner with the community. We need their support and their help to be able to do our jobs and also [the program] helps break down a lot of barriers. We get out there, we get to know people and engage with them…go to a Bills game with them, and if there is ever a time that we have to meet with each other on a police level, we already know each other, so a lot of the tension's already gone."
“It’s huge. It’s giving the kids a whole different perspective first of all, on police officers. You know, they’re actually enjoying the police officers and they’re seeing them as human beings, they’re seeing them as people. The fact that they get to go to a Bills game and actually watch professional football – something that they may not have had the opportunity to see, is great.” Buffalo Police Captain Steve Nichols
Nichols elaborated on the ways the program has made a difference, specifically for those who have had a chance to attend a Bills game.
"It's huge. It's giving the kids a whole different perspective first of all, on police officers," Nichols explained. "You know, they're actually enjoying the police officers and they're seeing them as human beings, they're seeing them as people. The fact that they get to go to a Bills game and actually watch professional football – something that they may not have had the opportunity to see, is great."
The program, which targets specific neighborhoods, offers a unique way to develop lasting bonds with the community and has been well received.
"Oh yes [we've had a good response]," said Nichols. "We really have. In the beginning, they were a little skeptical, but we have since added another neighborhood…and we have continued to go back to the original area too. As we continue to add areas, we will continue to go back to the other areas, so they're going to constantly see us. So, people are actually believing in us, [that] we're here to stay [and] we're here to partner with them. We're here to help them keep the neighborhood safe."