GREEN BAY — As long as the Green Bay Packers have been in existence, the organization has had a deep bond and connection with the Green Bay police department.
Those ties were further strengthened this past week when the Packers organization and Head Coach Mike McCarthy each made $100,000 donations to the Green Bay Police Foundation.
The non-profit organization, which was founded in June of this year, is designed to improve public safety and partnerships in the community.
The two $100,000 checks were on display during the organization's first fundraiser at Titletown Brewing Company in Green Bay on Monday night.
Public safety is something McCarthy holds close to his heart. His father, Joe, served as a police officer and firefighter in Pittsburgh for 38 years.
"My parents taught me the importance of giving back to your community," said McCarthy during a news conference this past week. "We want to shine a positive light on the enhancement of these engagement projects that are already in place, but they need funding, they need support.
"It's about the community, our children and embracing these relationships, and improving these relationships with public safety."
Mark Murphy, Mike McCarthy and others showed their support for the Green Bay Police Department recently. McCarthy and the Packers donated $200,000. Photos by Ryan Hartwig, Duke Bobber, Andrew Temperly, packers.com.
The two matching grants require the Green Bay Police Foundation to raise an additional $200,000 in order to secure the donations, and so far, it's off to a promising start.
The organization already has raised more than $30,000 in a little more than two months, according to Green Bay Police Chief Andrew Smith.
Smith, who was named to his current position in February, proposed the idea for the Green Bay Police Foundation after seeing the city of Los Angeles have success with a similar program in his previous position with the LAPD.
Smith said he was "absolutely floored" when he received the call informing him of McCarthy's and the Packers' contributions. The funds raised will go toward creating programs to support at-risk kids and youth in the community.
One example of the organization's efforts is the "Bring Your Own 5" initiative that sponsors weekly organized basketball tournaments at Fisk Park in Green Bay, which had more than 50 participants this year.
The police department supplied jerseys for the event, but Smith still noticed many kids were playing with worn-out shoes and clothing. He hopes the recent fundraising efforts could help advance the campaign and many more programs.
"I'm watching these kids from this neighborhood playing basketball with our police officers wearing shoes that are held together with duct tape," Chief Smith said. "I thought as a city we can do better than that. I think the Police Foundation is going to go a long way in not only 'Bring Your Own 5,' but also the other events and other entities we work with (to make them) better, more successful and bigger."
Some of the areas the Green Bay Police Foundation is looking to expand include training programs for officers, mounted patrol unit and equipment upgrades.
Smith said the police department currently has 18 students involved in its youth Explorers program, a number he'd like to see multiply in the coming years.
The early outpouring of support has been overwhelming. While donations like McCarthy's go a long way, Smith said he's also received change jars from area kids who raised money through a lemonade stand.
"I had to take it down to the bank, turn it into a cashier's check and turn that in," said Chief Smith, smiling. "The donations, you talk about grassroots, I get $5 here, $10 there and all of it goes to the Police Foundation from throughout our community."
Packers director of security Doug Collins, who's a former Green Bay police officer himself, reached out to Smith when he was hired as the police chief earlier this year.
Along with the efforts of a local doctor, Jennifer Erickson Foster, the framework began to take form for what would become the Green Bay Police Foundation.
The organization's objective is to create more awareness and knowledge of the role public safety has in the Green Bay community.
"I think everybody thinks of police as immediate and now, whether it's calls for service or traffic accidents that they deal with," Collins said. "But really basing a relationship in the community makes it better in the long run. I think some of these programs take time. They take funding for years. These youth programs help get the relationship started with the police department."
One specific area the Green Bay Police Foundation is looking to raise money is for getting tactical gear, helmets and vests for every squad car.
Neenah police officer Craig Hoffer and his wife, Samantha, spoke at length during the fundraiser of the importance of officers being properly equipped for any situation.
Hoffer's life was saved after he took a bullet to his helmet during a hostage situation in Neenah in December.
"I sat up there with tears in my eyes," said Dr. Foster, a surgeon at Bellin Hospital and close friend of Smith. "If somebody told me scrub in for this surgery but we don't have any gloves, I'd tell them they're crazy but that's what these officers in Green Bay are doing right now.
"Thankfully through this foundation and the rapid support of the community, we've already been able to order equipment for every car so they have a ballistic helmet and ballistic vest for our squad car going out."
Among the other initiatives the Green Bay police department is working on are mental health and crisis intervention training for officers, K-9 dog training, dive and SWAT team equipment and training, and new honor guard uniforms, which Foster says are nearly 50 years old.
Along with Green Bay mayor Jim Schmitt, Packers President/CEO Mark Murphy spoke at the event and accepted an honorary plaque on behalf of McCarthy and the organization.
A police officer for more than 28 years, Smith said he can't think of a time in history where there's been more strain between police officers and the public.
It's Murphy's and Smith's hope that the steps the Green Bay police department is taking today could become a model for creating a stronger community during a time of much public discord in the country.
"Obviously, in terms of our country and some of the issues we see across the country, it's very important," said Murphy of the relationship between the police and community.
"The programs Chief Smith has put together here with the foundation and some of the initiatives that he's going to be able to install in the next few years will bring the community together and be something really special for this community.
"I think it could be something that really paves the way for other communities across the country. We're just excited to be a part of it."
Smith says it's critical for everyone to work together in finding common solutions to the problems plaguing today's society, and getting the word out is essential for making that a reality.
As much as the monetary contributions help, it's even more important in Smith's mind to have the Packers' support with the cause.
"There's no organization in Wisconsin that unites people like the Green Bay Packers," Chief Smith said. "It was really a game-changer for the police department here in Green Bay and I think for our community here that we'll be able to partner and do so much with a donation of that size, so it's fantastic for us."
Those who wish to donate are encouraged to visit http://www.gbpolicefoundation.com/.