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Community police program seeks transportation for at-risk youth

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Artist rendering of a vehicle that would be used to transport at-risk youth to activities through the Fargo Police Community Trust Officer program. 2 / 4
Community Trust Officer Matt Niemeyer, pictured at the Fargo Police Department. Randy Cadwell / Forum News Service 3 / 4
Community Trust Officer Michael Bloom is pictured at the Fargo Police Department. Randy Cadwell / Forum News Service4 / 4

FARGO—The biggest eye-opener for Matt Niemeyer came when he walked into a third-grade classroom here for a presentation dressed in police uniform.

One boy became so terrified, he began hyperventilating and had to be taken out of the room.

Niemeyer, a Fargo Police Department Community Trust officer, said the child was born in another country where police are viewed very differently.

He was glad to go back later to help the child work through his fear.

"At least to a point where he would give me a high five," Niemeyer said.

That is one of the challenges police face in trying to establish trust with new American populations and others living in some of the city's lower-income neighborhoods.

Niemeyer, along with fellow CTO Michael Bloom, focus on the Jefferson and Ed Clapp elementary schools and Carl Ben Eielson Middle School.

Behavior interventionists at those schools help identify at-risk children, who may be acting out due to trauma or other major stressors they've experienced.

To steer those kids toward a brighter future, police are running outreach programs and activities and a new FPD Summer Camp starting in June.

A big barrier remains, however.

Most of the kids come from single-parent families and have little to no access to transportation.

A recent Giving Hearts Day fundraising effort took in nearly $7,500—far short of the $25,000 goal to buy one, perhaps two transport vehicles.

Bloom said a dedicated vehicle would provide reliable transportation, which is hit or miss now.

"It would like change the game for us," Bloom said.

Fargo police have run a summer camp with the nonprofit Charism for several years, but this is the first year of putting on their own.

Advocates are in the process of identifying children for the camp, focusing on those who aren't already signed up for other summer programs.

Activities could include swimming and outings to MPX Fitness, Barbot Boxing, and TNT Kids Fitness, where self-control and social skills will be incorporated into the fun.

Niemeyer said one transportation option that's being explored is the city giving to the program a small, 12-passenger MAT bus that's being decommissioned.

A "dream" goal is a second gaming vehicle that could be pulled into parks or neighborhoods, where kids could play appropriate video games with the officers.

Sgt. Kevin Pallas, who supervises the CTO program, said the officers have made a big difference, turning standoffish, negative, even verbally abusive youth into kids who trust and even give the officers hugs.

"It's truly heartfelt communication to these guys. It's very powerful to see that," Pallas said.

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