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Police league honors retiring Decatur chief for mentoring work

By Paul Huggins· 340-2395

The Police Activity League recognized Decatur Police Chief Joel Gilliam for his leadership in establishing the mentoring program, which helps at risk youths.

Gilliam, who retires as police chief Jan. 31, said the plaque he received Tuesday before a PALs basketball game at the Carrie Matthew Recreation Center will rank at the top of his list of honors because the program can have a lasting effect, improving the lives of troubled youths.

“I hoped I placed some seeds in the city that will tell these kids that one day they can be chief of police or a lawyer or a doctor or a world class basketball player,” he said.

The program’s goal is to give youths opportunities with sports or other activities that normally would be beyond their reach, as a way to teach them about respect for others, self-confidence and setting and achieving goals. The program offers activities like basketball, baseball, boxing, wrestling, chess and after-school tutoring.

PALs also involves police officers in the lives of children as coaches and mentors to show that they are not the enemy who only want to arrest them.

Decatur Youth Services Director Bruce Jones said having police officers mentoring the youths is the strength of the program and a must in this day when youth crime is on the rise.

Prior to PALs, the city had athletic programs for youths who didn’t fit in or could afford to play with the city’s established sports programs, but Gilliam partnered those programs with his officers after becoming chief in 1997. He eventually helped it charter with the national PALs program three years ago.

Gilliam said he introduced PALs to Decatur because of how well he saw it work when he lived in Detroit, and he noted his daughters learned how to ski and ice skate because of PALs.

The opportunities help build the children’s confidence and expand their dreams, he said.

“It’s about learning the skills of life,” Gilliam said.

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