The “Love You to Live” camp, on its face, seems like many other summer overnight camps. Designed to help Baltimore students who are in difficult circumstances or have already been through the juvenile justice system, the focus of the camp is to help students develop, connect to peers and role models who can support them, and potentially become leaders in their own right.
But as WJZ 13-TV reports, there’s a twist to this camp. The students don’t find out until the end that their camp counselors all work in law enforcement. The experience is supposed to build trust among the students, many of whom don’t trust the police, or many adults in general, and law enforcement.
One student, Nairra Broadway-Williams, told the news outlet that the revelation was shocking.
“I was really overwhelmed. I realized police aren’t as bad as I thought they were,” she said.
Baltimore PD Colonel Melvin Russell, who founded the camp, said he started the camp because he saw an opportunity to do more for the Baltimore youth “who are really struggling.”
He said he wanted campers to walk away from the experience knowing their lives are valued and that they can live “transformative” lives. But some social media users who came upon the story wonder whether hiding the officers’ identities throughout the camp sends a very different message than the one intended.
“Yeah because the best way to get kids to trust cops is to LIE TO THEM FOR A WEEK,” wrote one Twitter user.
And while the article frames the reveal as a “surprise,” another Twitter user called it dishonest and “emotional abuse.”
Baltimore PD has a long history of racism and corruption that extends into the present day. The 2015 death of Freddie Gray, who suffered a fatal injury while in BPD custody, sparked a Department of Justice investigation that concluded that racial bias was pervasive in the department. And just this year, an elite team within the department—the Gun Trace Task Force—was charged with “plundering the city and its residents for hundreds of thousands of dollars in cash, drugs, and jewelry” for years, writes Vox.
Of course, the professed intent of the “Love to Live You” camp is noble, and is certainly a welcome step in bridging the gulf between BPD and the community it polices. But it’s also fair to question the methodology—hiding officers’ identities until the end—and the message that sends about police. Namely, about their ability to confront the root causes for why such distrust exists in the first place.
Building personal connections is great, but the sort of transformation Col. Russell aspires to also requires officers practice that same leadership, accountability, and reflection within their own departments.