D.A.’s Office Invites More Kids to Bury Their Beefs, With Basketball

basketballLaura Edwins At Henry Street Settlement on Saturday.

District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance, Jr. spent last Saturday night watching a basketball game, but not because he had scored Knicks tickets, or because his kids were playing – he was in the East Village, and none of the 12- to 19-year-olds on the court were his own.

“It’s a crime-fighting strategy,” he explained at the Boys and Girls Republic Gym at Henry Street Settlement. “I’d rather be in the back row of the gym watching a basketball game than in the back row of a courtroom watching a kid in trouble.”

In January, Mr. Vance’s office, along with the police department’s Police Athletic League and the Drug Enforcement Administration, launched an eight-week basketball training program that concluded with a tournament last weekend.

Drill and Play is funded by the D.E.A., with money seized during drug investigations. It’s been so successful that a second round of training will begin at Henry Street Settlement on March 2. The D.A.’s office hopes to see an uptick in participation, in part because of the Jeremy Lin phenomenon, and also because kids are telling their friends about it.

Later this year, the D.A. plans to expand the program to West Harlem and Washington Heights, and it may feature other sports, like baseball.

Jeffry Solomon, a counselor at another recently launched youth-hoops program, the Teen Impact Center at Campos Plaza, said, “Things like this are definitely positive.” He added that the Teen Impact Center, which also includes workshops and discussion groups about topics such as job skills and responsibility, has been a success, and has helped stabilize the Campos Plaza Community Center’s after-school program for younger children.

Mr. Solomon stressed that there has been a need for such initiatives in the East Village since popular youth programs at Pitt Street Boy’s Club and at Mary Help of Christians Youth Center were discontinued. While the basketball programs have had an “undeniable impact,” he said, they are by no means a cure-all or a quick fix.

On Saturday night as the teams warmed up, N.Y.P.D. Assistant Commissioner Kevin O’Connor spoke to the players and their parents about the need for programs like Drill and Play.

“Beefs are going on out there,” he said. “We have to bury those beefs. Come down and play ball and settle it on the courts. If you can play ball together, you can live together.”