Amid a gym full of running and shouting kids, a counselor approached supervisor Jamarr Daniels with a problem: A camper was hiding under the bleachers and wouldn’t come out.
With a few quiet words, Daniels coaxed the 10-year-old out and sent him back to playing basketball—working the kind of relationship he hopes to bring to a career as a New Haven cop.
Daniels was a camper himself at the Police Activities League (PAL) summer program. Now 20, he supervises the counselors and volunteers at the same camp, which the police department significantly expanded this year.
He’s gone from being a PAL camper to helping to run the camp, from being a little kid playing policeman to preparing to take the police academy’s agility test on Saturday. He’s hoping to get picked as a recruit for the next academy class.
Daniels said he wants to be a beat cop in a neighborhood like the Hill, where he grew up. To him, becoming a cop would include working with young people and helping them to recognize the consequences of their decisions. He’ll have a head start, building on relationships he’s made with young people at the PAL camp.
On Wednesday morning, Daniels was in the “little gym” at Wilbur Cross High, his alma mater. Dozens of kids milled about, jumping rope and shooting hoops.
Wearing a white T-Shirt and gray gym shorts, Daniels listed the staff he’s supervising this summer: 15 incoming Yale athletes who are working at the camp in between summer practice, 14 Youth@Work staffers, three Yale interns, and four volunteers.
The camp needs that much manpower now that it has more than doubled in size this year, to 150 kids, up from 65 last year, at the request of Chief Dean Esserman. The free five-week camp, for 8- to 12-year-olds, runs from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Days are filled with athletic activities, and occasional educational presentations. Campers go on a field trip each week.
Daniels is back at the camp this year for the seventh time.
His hoped-for path from PAL to the police force started when he was a little boy. The youngest of nine children, Daniels spent a lot of time by himself, watching Walker, Texas Ranger, the TV crime drama starring Chuck Norris. He had a belt with a cap gun in a holster,and plastic handcuffs from Walgreen’s; he would play policeman around the house.
“This is what I want to do,” he thought to himself.
After his first year of PAL camp, Daniels landed a spot on New Haven’s Board of Young Police Commissioners. He joined the police Explorers program for teens who aspire to be cops, and became lead cadet and lieutenant. During the International Festival of Arts & Ideas, he supervised a group of Explorers patrolling downtown, making sure they interacted with the public.
Daniels strayed from his pursuit of policing only once, for a couple of months in 2004 after his dad died of a heart attack in his sleep. He had been close with his dad, who was “known in the streets,” as were Daniels’ six older brothers, several of whom he said have been in jail.
After his dad died, Daniels tried life in the streets. “I tried the saggy pants. I didn’t like it. I tried fighting. I didn’t like it.”
Daniels said he even tried smoking weed once. “I hated it. I thought I was going to die.”
After a couple of months of running around, sneaking out of the house at night, Daniels realized it wasn’t for him. The many cops he knew from Explorers and PAL guided him to that conclusion. They would see him on the street and say, “Jamarr, why are you out here?”
He started to ask himself the same question: “Why am I out here?” It wasn’t where he wanted to be. It wasn’t helping him reach his dream of being a cop.
Since graduating from Wilbur Cross, where he played football and ran track, Daniels has been working at a car dealership and as a teaching assistant at Helene Grant while working to land a spot in the police academy. He has participated in several National Explorer Academy conferences, earning pins and certifications. And he’s been training to stay fit for the police academy.
For his Saturday police academy agility test, he’ll have to do 27 pushups and 37 sit-ups in under a minute each, prove his flexibility on a sit-and-reach test, and run a mile and a half in just under 13 minutes. Daniels said he’s “a little nervous” but confident he’ll earn a seat in the academy.
“I’d like to be assigned in a troubled area,” he said. The Hill. The ‘Ville. The Trey. Fair Haven.
Daniels said he wants to ask young people the same question cops asked him: Why are you out here? He said he wants to help kids on the street to focus on what’s really important in their lives, not saggy pants and smoking weed.
“They Know Me”
Making his rounds at the camp on Wednesday morning, Daniels stopped by the Wilbur Cross swimming pool, where campers filed in and jumped in the pool after a lecture on safety.
“I’m schooling this kid,” said School Resource Officer Victor Fuentes, who appeared from behind Daniels. Fuentes said he’s been showing Daniels how to be a cop. “He’s my shadow.”
Would Daniels make a good police officer?
“Hell yeah. Excellent,” Fuentes said. “He’s focused. Determined. He has excellent communication skills. He’s a hardworking young man. He’s dedicated to the program. He’s ambitious. He’ll be good.”
Back in the little gym, Daniels jumped in on a kickball game, making it to first base.
He chatted with Khalid Cannon (at right in photo), an 18-year-old incoming offensive lineman at Yale.
Daniels strolled down the hall to Wilbur Cross’ bigger gym, where the older kids were playing basketball. He said his role at the camp is often as a disciplinarian, ordering kids to do push-ups if they break rules. It’s an effective deterrent, Daniels said. “They don’t like push-ups.”
He said he’ll often drop down and do the exercise alongside the rule-breaker, for support.
Counselor Lawrence Easterling alerted Daniels to the fact that a camper was hiding under the bleachers. Daniels walked over and called out 10-year-old Harvon Melton. He put his arm around him and ushered him gently back into the gym.
Asked what he was doing under the bleachers, Harvon said, “Chilling.”
“He got into an argument,” Daniels explained. Harvon had been upset after a fight, and fled.
Daniels acknowledged that Harvon had come out for him but not for Easterling. “Usually when I come, things change.”
That’s because he’s seen as an enforcer, but also because he’s built relationships with kids over the years. “They know me. We can talk.”