LAPD officer finds passion in working with Southeast L.A. students

When he was younger, Derek Kosloski wanted to be a special agent in the FBI. Now a Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) officer, he imparts his love of law enforcement on students in Southeast Los Angeles.

Kosloski was on his way to work for the federal government when a hiring freeze forced him into a string of jobs that ended at the LAPD’s Southeast Division.

“I’ve put two major pimps in prison with investigations, but those took over a year and a half per case,” he said. “It’s hard on your personal life.”

After working in the vice division for several years, Kosloski was ready for a break from prostitution and pimps. He was unsure, however, about accepting a job heading the new Police Athletic League (PAL) for children in the Southeast area. Working with children and teenagers who are often victims of violence seemed more difficult than dealing with hardened criminals, said Kosloski.

“When you’re arresting professional criminals, they know the program—business as usual,” said Kosloski. “They don’t give you lip; you do your job they do theirs. It’s really civil even with murderers and robbers.”

Nonetheless, he accepted the job. Instead of hunting down criminals, he now is on the constant lookout for extra hockey sticks, skates and practicing grounds.

The Road to the LAPD

In high school, Kosloski wanted to work for the CIA or the FBI. While finishing his degree at the University of California, Irvine, he got an internship with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The internship took place at the World Trade Center in Los Angeles right after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. By the time Kosloski completed his internship, a federal hiring freeze made it impossible to move straight from his internship to a job.

Out of work and sidelined from his goal of working for the government, Kosloski started working as a substitute teacher. While subbing, he maintained contact with his internship mentor, a special agent who told Kosloski to find job at a regular police department as experience for when the hiring freeze lifted.

Kosloski applied to the police academy and started another job as an assistant stage manager at Disneyland while he waited to hear back from the LAPD. Surrounded by lights, costumes and parades definitely wasn’t like law enforcement, but Kosloski started to get used to the fact that his future would revolve around entertainment. That didn’t last either.

“I was working at Disneyland on April 3 when I got a call from the police department saying ‘We want to offer you an academy date,’” Kosloski said. “It was a Thursday afternoon. They wanted me to start Monday and they gave me a day to decide.”

He ditched the colorful world of Disney for a black suit and a 5 a.m. academy appointment.

“Friday to Monday it was a whole different life,” Kosloski said.

‘Being Passionate about Your Work’

Life is still in constant flux for Kosloski. Outside of working for the LAPD, he participates in an intramural hockey team, plays in a cover band called Section 8 and travels as often as possible. He’s also in the middle of planning his next career adventure.

“When I came on [to the police force] I was thinking ‘I’ll do this for 10-15 years and see what comes next.’ I don’t know what it is, but now that I’m a little older, I want to start a bar and be the bartender.”

Kosloski laughs while sharing and says he’ll probably kick himself for giving up a job that allows him to play sports with children half of the week and pursue whatever he wants for the rest of it. Hard work isn’t a problem for Kosloski, but his personal time is valuable to him. Working so many different jobs helped put that into perspective.

“There’s a clear distinction between having your passions in life and being passionate about your work,” said Kosloski. “You can still go to work and passionate. For me, it also gives me the time and resources to do what I want with my life.”

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Graphic courtesy of LAPD

LAPD officers trade policing for mentoring with PAL program

imageWith the largest housing projects west of the Mississippi and 120 recognized gangs within 10 square miles, the Southeast Division of the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) is working harder than ever to keep children away from the gang culture.

Officers started a local chapter of the Police Activities League (PAL) in Southeast Los Angeles to provide sports teams, field trips and mentoring opportunities for children exposed to violence and fear on a daily basis.

“The kids [in our division] have a lot of challenges, so it’s hard for them to go outside and play,” said police officer Scott Burkett, one of the officers in charge of the program. “There’s so many negative influences, that a lot of their parents don’t want them to go outside. They are afraid to go outside, to be drafted into a gang or become an accidental victim.”

Because of budget cuts to after-school programs, the activities league offers students a chance to participate in activities outside of school under the watchful eye of an adult. The kids have come to appreciate the support of police officers as their coaches and mentors, but it wasn’t instantaneous.

“Trust is a huge issue. They don’t trust cops so they didn’t trust us at first, but by working with the kids over time you see a change in how they come to open up and trust us, which is great to see. “ Burkett said. The officers of PAL agree that it also helps when they show up in jeans and a police jacket instead of uniforms with cuffs and a gun.

At College Ready Academy High School 11, a weekly hockey program gives the students something to look forward to after school. It also keeps them motivated in class.

“They bring their skates to school and they are so excited,” said Avery Seretan, a ninth grade teacher at College Ready Academy. “One of my students knows he won’t be able to go to hockey practice unless he does his work. Lately, he’s been really on top of his schoolwork so he doesn’t miss out.”

College Ready Academy also worked with PAL to provide incentives for academic improvement. The school recently conducted benchmark tests. Students were told that if their scores went up by 20 percent or more they would earn a field trip to Big Bear. The officers planned for 15 students. Thirty qualified.

Test scores are measurable proof that the league is helping students, but earning their trust and seeing how much the kids look forward to PAL activities are constant motivation, say the officers who facilitate the program. At weekly hockey practices, Officer Derek Kosloski said students channel all of their energy into learning the sport.

“Hockey can be a bit rough and emotions sometimes take over, but when the kids are with us they are perfectly well-behaved. It’s hard to believe it when I hear about some of the kids on our team being suspended for bringing knives to school or fighting,” Kosloski said.

Hockey is popular with the high school students and Kosloski hopes to have enough teams to start a Southeast league. None of the students had ever played hockey before, so lessons started from scratch and the kids soaked it up.

“A lot of them didn’t know how to hold the hockey stick, play left or right-handed and had never seen a live game before we took them to a Kings game,” Kosloski said. “The kids are so excited that when we stop practice they always want to play one more game. They are completely fired up.”

Activities like this are a preventative way for police officers to fight gang recruitment and violence. They see the program as a way of putting money into children before they become gang members instead of spending money and time arresting them later.

Students started participating in activities in the PAL program last December, but the Southeast chapter was officially formed in March 2010. Paperwork and technical issues such as being recognized as a non-profit organization and being recognized by the national PAL organization took almost nine months.

Money for trips like the one to Big Bear comes from fundraisers by the police station and support from businesses such as the Los Angeles Angels, Body Glove and the Salvation Army.

“It’s been a lot of networking and getting out there in the community. We’ve been really lucky, though” said Burkett. The effort is worth introducing the students to places outside the projects, he added.

The Southeast PAL program is still new but is slowly working its way into the community.

“They definitely play a big role here and our kids have really come to look up to them,” Seretan said.

Kosloski maintains that it’s all about teaching the kids with positive reinforcement so “when it comes time to make that tough decision, they’ll make the right one.”

Photos courtesy of Creative Commons

More stories about the LAPD in South Los Angeles:

Los Angeles boasts lowest homicide rate in 40 years

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P.A.L. program provides afterschool alternatives