Officer Krupke couldn’t prevent the fated youth-gang fight between the Jets and the Sharks in the classic “West Side Story.” But as an officer spending time working the neighborhoods, walking a beat, his influence was felt.

Krupke, a fictional character, and so many real officers before him made up the original community police. These officers walked their beats and personally knew the first names of men, women and children on their patrols. Many times, these officers lived on the same streets they protected.

Times have changed, and officers usually patrol their beats from their cars. But it is the face-to-face engagement with people, community policing, that brings police and neighborhoods together.

The Goldsboro Police Department has a community policing program that involves youth through athletics. This is a positive way of reaching out to young people; it develops and sustains respect for police officers and the community they protect.

In partnership with Goldsboro Parks and Recreation, GPD created the Police Activities League in fall 2017. The PAL allows kids to spend time getting to know officers and seeing them in a different light.

“We normally respond to a negative situation,” said the GPD’s Cpl. Dillon Fleming, “so them seeing us helping them coach or just being there to hang out with them is a good thing … ”

He continued, “I went to teach at one of the schools not too long ago, and one of my former players yelled, ‘Coach!’ and he came running across the gym as we were walking in to teach. (It was) great.”

PAL doesn’t offer summer sports programs, but starting again in the fall — and then throughout the year — young people have a chance to play flag football, soccer, coach pitch baseball and more. For two days, June 19-20, PAL will conduct a basketball camp at the Y for ages 8-17. Those interested should contact Fleming at 919-580-4256.

Community policing started with the foot cop walking a beat. As technology and suburban sprawl occurred, police found they had time only to patrol in cars and react to calls rather than pre-emptively preventing crime. In the late 20th century, actual “community policing” efforts begun. Many places where police use the method, positive results — such as reductions in crime and relationships between police and the public — are being recognized and quantified.

Krupke couldn’t settle down the Jets and the Sharks. If it were possible, though, to know what was happening behind the fiction, away from the two gangs, we are confident we would see safer neighborhoods with officers walking a beat and directly interacting with people in a positive way, the community policing of today.