Vancouver police officer Julie Ballou will fly to Miami this weekend to be honored for her volunteer work as part of the local Police Activities League.
In her near-decade with the league, Ballou has worked with children around the city with the league, which is a nonprofit that pairs police officers with young people for education and recreational programs, as a way of improving relationships between police and the community.
Last week, Ballou learned the National Association of Police Athletic/Activities League, Inc., chose her as its April Law Enforcement Officer of the Month.
“Every day Officer Ballou goes above and beyond, with a contagious passion for helping her community,” the national league said in a news release.
When she joined the league, often shortened to PAL, about 10 year ago, its then-mostly civilian board was trying to bring in officers to participate in decision-making.
“When I got started, it was really in its infant stages,” Ballou said.
The league isn’t officially affiliated with the police department. It raises its own money, with no help from the department. As time has gone on, its been able to do more fundraising, get more grants and get more officers participating.
It’s also been able to expand its programming. When the local league first started, it was more geared toward athletics, she said.
“It should be part of what we do,” she said. “Community building and being involved in the community in other ways than just law enforcement.”
One of PAL’s most visible programs has been its literacy work, where officers come to local classrooms and help with reading practice.
The league does much of its work in schools where a large share of the enrolled students are on free or reduced lunch, Ballou said.
Part of why she volunteers, she said, stems from how much support friends and families gave her growing up.
“I’ve seen, unfortunately, that help is not always present with the kids in our community. So my motivation has been, sort of, how can I pay it forward? How can I help kids in our community outside of just being the neighborhood police officer?” she said.
With the climate of hyper-exposed instances of police misconduct and other controversies elsewhere, it’s important that kids, their families and other community members feel like they can trust and communicate with their police department.
Ballou herself coached PAL’s now-dormant boxing program, and she also helps with the annual police officer versus firefighter basketball game, regularly works with a fifth-grade class at Orchards Elementary School, and plays in the regular golf tournament.
Last time, she even got to play without her uniform, for once.
“Which is a real bonus, because it’s usually really hot outside.”
One of her favorite activities, she said, was a seven-day backpacking trip to the Olympic National Forest two years ago.
Ballou, three other adults and a handful of girls went on the trip, and she called it a wonderful learning opportunity for all involved.
“It’s not just, ‘Who are these adults and what do we have to share with these kids?’ The learning comes back the other way,” she said. “How can my policing change? How can my policing improve by learning who these girls are, learning who their families are? What are their struggles? What challenges do they face, and how, as a police officer, can I help them?”
Ballou said she’s planning for another trip in July.