The current climate of community and police relations in our country has forced law enforcement agencies to examine what tactics work well and what areas pose challenges. Officers work extremely hard day in and day out to keep the citizens of our community safe. However, the focus on building relationships while performing their jobs should also be a priority and the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department is committed to finding opportunities to build better community relationships, especially with youth. Now, they are doing so through chess.
So, when the SLMPD was approached by the St. Louis Police Foundation with a plan for interacting with students in a unique setting, the police welcomed the opportunity. After months of conceptualizing, planning and training, the St. Louis Cops Helping Enhance Student Skills — or C.H.E.S.S. — program became a reality.
The program is a collaborative effort between the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department, the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of St. Louis and the St. Louis Public Schools. The initiative, which started Feb. 22, pairs St. Louis police officers with students to teach them the game of chess.
“Our officers are so excited to be a part of this program,” said Lt. Perri Johnson. “It is critical for law enforcement to establish positive relationships with members of the St. Louis community early on, and this program helps us do just that.”
At this point, eight police officers have gone through a certification process to become accredited chess instructors. Once certified, the police officers teach fundamental chess elements to students. The curriculum incorporates lessons on critical thinking, planning and logic. The program is also designed to foster positive relationships between the police department and the community. After all, by playing chess both students and officers interact in an environment where they may not otherwise have a chance to meet. During the chess matches, officers and students sit across from one another and learn about each other.
“St. Louis C.H.E.S.S. Cops truly exhibits the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis’s positive involvement in the community and current affairs,” said Tony Rich, CCSCSL executive director. “It is a prime example of how chess can teach fundamental lessons, build constructive relationships and ultimately make a difference in the lives of young people.”
While there are a number of sports programs that connect youth and police officers, not every child is athletically inclined. Introducing chess to students provides yet another opportunity for positive interactions on a different level.
“We are very pleased to see organizations like the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis working to promote programs that actively involve our city’s youth,” said Kelvin Adams, superintendent of the St. Louis Public Schools. “Chess gives our students a constructive outlet. Now, when our students see a police officer, we hope they will see a mentor.”
Schron Jackson works for the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department's Public Information Division.