As a 30-year-old homeless woman, Rebecca Bells has had her share of interactions with law enforcement. As a 15-year veteran of the Juneau Police Department, Krag Campbell has been on the opposite side of those interactions many times.
Relationships between the homeless and law enforcement can often be tense, they both say. To break that tension, it helps to find common ground.
For these two, they can bond over their lack of bowling skill: They’re both mediocre. Over a bowling match Saturday at Taku Lanes, they both shared with the Empire a little bit about what their interactions can be like.
“For me, it’s just, you have to treat everyone like they’re human,” Campbell said. “There’s always tension between police and anyone you contact, just because as a police officer, sometimes you just might not be as comfortable talking to people when you’re in uniform. It can automatically create barriers.”
For Bells, who says most of her interactions with law enforcement are positive, humanizing is key.
“I’m not shy to interact with police officers. Whenever you start playing a role, they slip into their roles,” Bells said. “But really, it’s like, you know, I’m a person, you’re a person, we can talk about this.”
It’s in the spirit of this common ground that Bells is organizing a “Street vs. the Beat” bowling match. Set for 7 p.m. July 15 at Taku Lanes, six JPD officers will take on six bowlers from the homeless community for a charity event.
Bells is organizing a silent auction and a fundraising component, where spectators can support one team over the other with their donations.
A recent transplant from San Fransisco, Bells explained the inspiration behind the event. She said she came up with the idea after intervening in an altercation between a friend and the police at the bay area’s Golden Gate Park.
Plain-clothed police, who were interrogating a friend of hers, were wearing what looked to Bells like bowling shirts, so she asked them if they bowled. The random nature of the question caught the officers off guard and added a bit of levity to the situation, helping to defuse some of the tension.
She now does this every time she interacts with police officers.
“It completely breaks the tension, humanizes both sides and leads to a nice conversation,” Bells said.
She decided to take the idea further, thinking that if she could get homeless people and police officers in the same room for a bit of friendly competition, they might be able to build bonds which would help them avoid future conflict and work together to keep the streets safe.
After coming to Juneau a month ago, she got started immediately in making the Street vs. the Beat match happen. She’s been impressed so far with how JPD has taken to the idea and the respect with which she’s been treated by law enforcement here.
Campbell said it’s been tough dealing with the increase in homeless people downtown. JPD has worked hard over the years to develop a good relationship with the homeless, which has helped them do what they can, he said.
But sometimes people expect too much from police, who can’t resolve the issue singlehandedly. They can’t guarantee everyone gets the help they need to get off the street.
Campbell said having a public presence is an important part of keeping the peace. Events like the Street vs. the Beat bowling match help to remind the community that police officers are just like everyone else.
“The police department is a part of the community. When I’m not working, I am right where everyone else is, so it’s good to have those positive relationships,” Campbell said. “One, to help things move forward and improve on things. It never helps to have hostility between different groups.”
“It’s humanizing both sides of it,” Bells added. “Police officers are people who have hard jobs who do a lot of things that other people don’t want to do. Then they get kind of made into these terrible people because you get a parking ticket or this or that happens. … I am around people who are so angry around the cops, but it’s like, you know what, the cops have helped me many times. Sometimes my interactions aren’t always positive, but they are just people.”
Bells and five friends from the homeless community have been practicing at Taku Lanes once a week for the event. If the score of Saturday’s round was any indication, Bells’ team is going to have their work cutout for them.
Campbell won the game 116 to Bells’ 70. The Empire finished with a 97.
• Contact reporter Kevin Gullufsen at 523-2228 or firstname.lastname@example.org