When Officer Mario Adame was a young cop patrolling Southeast Division in the wild Nineties, it wasn’t uncommon to handle multiple homicides in the same night or to see kids just out of grade school carrying guns.
He was handling a radio call in the Jordan Downs housing project when some young kids, not more than 5 years old, came running up to greet him. He waved hello, only to see the children’s parents yanking them away.
“They were saying, ‘Get away! Don’t you ever talk to cops!’” recalled Adame, now a 19-year veteran assigned to Southeast Division. “That really stuck with me. I realized that if we were going to make a change, we had to get to the kids when they were young.”
It took him a few years to realize how to effect that change, however. When he heard of other Southeast officers’ involvement with Operation Progress, he realized that if he wanted to make a difference in the community, it wasn’t going to come through arrests alone.
He now serves as a mentor to three students, as a boxing coach and as an advocate for college preparation. Just by opening kids’ eyes to the world outside South Los Angeles, Adame says OP can be a positive influence to counteract the harsh realities of the streets.
“They deserve the best,” Adame said. “But in the inner city, they don’t have a lot of options. They’ve never been fishing. They’ve never been to the beach. As police officers, we see so many bad stories, but these kids deserve better.”
He believes that in the way a parent helps shape a child, or a training officer molds a rookie cop, OP mentors can help raise up the next generation off community leaders. Though it’s still early in the process, Adame thinks the work of OP and other outreach groups has helped build trust between the LAPD and the communities it serves.
“With all the stuff going on around the country, we haven’t seen many major incidents here in LA,” Adame said. “I think community-based policing helps a whole lot—not just OP, but the whole department…. Hopefully, the kids see what we’re doing and they’ll remember it.”