EUCLID, Ohio (AP) - The city's police department has expanded its role to include neighborhood basketball games.
Euclid is one of 10 cities in Ohio and about 315 nationwide that receive annual "Weed and Seed" grants from the U.S. Department of Justice. Euclid began receiving the grant in 1997, and Akron got involved in 1998.
The $225,000 federal grant Euclid receives every year helps pay for bicycle and foot patrols, which are used to forge better relationships with the public. The goal is to weed out drug dealers and other criminals.
Among the officers' duties are organizing youth athletics, making daily visits to schools and taking children on fishing trips. The officers and a civilian staffer also help form neighborhood associations and train landlords to screen tenants.
Patrolman Larry Germovsek has two decades of experience and acknowledged he was skeptical about community policing until he signed up for it three years ago. This summer, he watches children play basketball in the parking lot of a former General Motors plant twice a week.
"Larry's a street cop, and he was pretty good at it," said Sgt. Jim Savage, who was also a Weed and Seed skeptic before becoming the unit's supervisor a year ago. "Now we joke that we're huggers."
Children are the unit's main focus. The officers ticket youths who hang out in the street and block traffic. Getting to know the teens by face and name makes it easier to curb problems before they begin.
But the officers don't just hand out tickets to youngsters.
Germovsek organized basketball games for a neighborhood short on recreational facilities this summer. Nearly 100 children have joined, and teens from rival sections of the city have gotten along well.
Aaron Randall, who coaches his 11-year-old nephew, Jeffrey Balford, said the police need to reach out to children before they are led astray.
"The older you get, the more you're going to pick up," Randall said. "A kid's going to be a kid. If you can get to them maybe at the age of 7 or 8, that would be great."