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Wilson Chief of Police Thomas Hopkins’ efforts to build stronger relationships between his officers and the community resulted in him being selected as the National Police Athletic League’s Law Enforcement Officer of the Year.
The award was announced during the organization’s recent national conference in Miami, Florida.
“I would like to give honor and thanks to God for blessing the PAL program,” Hopkins said during his acceptance. “I also thank National PAL President Jeff Hood and the National PAL Board of Directors for providing me with this high honor. Our Wilson Police Department PAL Board of Directors, the personnel of the Wilson Police Department and the many community partners share this recognition for their dedication and commitment to PAL programs.”
Hopkins’ passion for the community here and reaching youth has transformed Wilson’s PAL program from one football camp each summer to a year-round program with more than 30 annual programs and events, officials said.
Wilson’s PAL program reaches between 700 and 800 youth annually through various camps, programs and activities conducted by police officers.
Hopkins said he sees no better way to reach out to young people, develop relationships in the community and support those in need than through the PAL programs.
LASTING RELATIONSHIPS WITH YOUTH
Several years ago, Hopkins began to discuss ways to grow and to make sure no child ever had to pay to participate in Wilson’s PAL programs.
After careful and prayerful consideration, Hopkins led Wilson’s PAL to acquire its nonprofit status with its own board of directors and operations.
That change went into effect in 2015, with Hopkins serving as executive director.
Officials said after making the operational improvements, PAL experienced exponential growth in Wilson.
Hopkins has also led an effort to focus on lasting relationships with youth. He implemented five running youth mentoring programs — Boys 2 Men, Saving Our Sons, Girlz-N-Progress, Smart Girls, and one for teen mothers, STRONG Moms.
In addition to those mentoring programs, Hopkins is heavily devoted to the Wilson Police Explorers program, officials said.
CAMPS AND PROGRAMS
Hopkins has also increased officer involvement in Wilson schools. Officers regularly participate in coaching, elementary reading programs, mentorship and other programs within the schools. These efforts help build relationships with the youth and strengthen the Wilson community as a whole.
At Hopkins’ direction, PAL has become the face of the department’s community-oriented policing philosophy. Day camps free to Wilson youth include football, cheerleading, softball, baseball, basketball, wrestling, soccer, volleyball, teens, field hockey, culinary and hiking. Other programs include a USA Wrestling-sanctioned wrestling club, PAL’s Fish with a Cop event, the SWAT Ultimate Challenge Camp, the Wilson Police Department Youth Academy and a Dodgeball Showdown. Each camp also includes free meals.
The PAL program also operates a food pantry, and a “Meals that Heal” program to feed those in need.
For more information on the Wilson Police Athletics and Activities League, visit wilsonpdpal.org.