Working to clear up misconceptions, CMPD at summer camp for disabled kids, adults

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - For the last 18 years, Camp SOAR in Charlotte has welcomed intellectually and developmentally disabled kids and adults to a week long summer camp. More than 350 campers and 400 volunteers will take part in a variety of activities.

This year, some guests will be there.

"I also wanted the police to get to know our population because of their special needs, a lot of times they're scared and they might run and not know how to act around police because of the things they see around TV and the fears they have so I'm trying to break those barriers down," said Bob Bowler.

Bowler, the founder and director of Camp SOAR, says he realized some disabled residents have a fear of police.

"A large fear because of all of the negative things on TV and newspaper about police shooting this and that, all the protests, protest in Charlotte and all of that," Bowler said. "So they see that and hear that so they don't really know how to accept it and understand it."

Fourteen Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officers will be at the camp every day this week – whether it's playing sports, exercise classes, or arts and craft – the officers are in uniform taking part in activities and talking about their jobs.

Fowler says he wants the camp to build a bridge and demolish misconceptions and fears of police.

"You come out and you get an opportunity to be around a bunch of kids and adults that you normally don't spend a lot of time with and they're at camp having fun just like my kids go to camp and any other kids that go to camp. They're just here to have a good time," Officer Michael Blee. "They see you as a buddy to play basketball game with, or bingo we got to play with yesterday. Just whatever event you walk into at that time."

Officer Blee, a 19-year veteran with CMPD, says it doesn't take long for campers to not notice the uniform. The hope is they'll remember the time they spent with police.

"Not only them but us as well," Officer Blee said. "You get to see somebody you don't normally come into contact with. It gives you the understanding we're all human. Just cause we have all different daily activities – comes down the end of the day they just go about their day and I go about my day differently but we're all the same at the end. It's been fun."

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