‘Amigos en Azul’ soccer game holds special meaning for police this year

‘Amigos en Azul’ soccer game holds special meaning for police this year

MADISON, Wis. — Saturday marked the kickoff of the Madison Police Department’s second annual Southside Soccer Series, hosted by the MPD’s “Amigos en Azul” Latino outreach group.

More than 60 kids, most of them Latino, came together with officers at Penn Park to bond and play soccer.

The game holds a special meaning for MPD officers this year, coming after Thursday’s sniper attack on law enforcement officers in Dallas.

One of the injured Dallas police officers, Gretchen Rocha, is a Wisconsin native and was an MPD intern in 2013. Rocha is bilingual and served with the Amigos en Azul program. Rocha is now recovering from her wounds.

“I was thinking on the way here, you know, she was an Amigos officer and she followed her calling,” Sgt. Rahim Rahaman said. “You know, she’s out there trying to make a difference and protect people down there so we’re all thinking about her and praying for her.”

The goal of the series is to connect officers with youth over soccer, which is a popular sport among many in Madison’s Latino community.

“We have officers that are coaches, we have officers that are referees,” Rahaman said. “Not only are we behind the scenes, but we’re also out there interacting with the kids.”

Rahaman said it’s all about bridging the trust barriers that exist between Latinos and police officers.

“The biggest fear is deportation,” Rahaman said. “Crimes are underreported, they’re afraid to come and talk to us. They’re afraid that if they come to us, something else might happen to their family, break their family up when that’s just not the case.”

Rahaman said bridging those gaps early on is important.

“You look at the way things are today, we have younger kids and this is the right time to interact and show that we are people and hopefully they can trust us,” he said. “Hopefully, someday, they’ll look back at it with their kids and sit there and say ‘you know what, police aren’t bad, they’re just like everyone else.'”

Patricia Biddick, who brought her son and daughter to the series, said it’s good to see them and their friends connecting with officers.

“With all this stuff you hear about every day in the news, having this opportunity, the kids, you know, playing and having this is just great,” Biddick said.

Biddick said it’s been especially rewarding for her son to interact with MPD officers.

“My son loves police,” she said. “He says when he (grows up) he wants to be a policeman.”

The Southside Soccer Series will take place at Penn Park every Saturday in the month of July.

Rahaman said Saturday’s game had more than 60 children taking part, more than double the regular attendance last year.