EAST ORANGE, NJ - The sounds of bouncing balls and squealing sneakers on the shiny gym floor was all that could be heard Sunday, February 23, 2020, at East Orange Campus High.

TAPinto was on the scene for East Orange’s Battle of the Badges Public Safety Basketball Tournament. The event was organized by the Public Safety Department's Community Relation’s team: Lieutenant Yasmine Johnson and Officer Corey Johnson, under the leadership of Police Chief Phyllis Bindi and Public Safety Director Domingos Saldida, in collaboration with Mayor Ted R. Green and the City Council.

“Lieutenant Yasmine Johnson and I put it out there, and law enforcement agencies responded by organizing teams,” said Officer Corey Johnson. Being a ballplayer back in the day, I know sports build comradery. We interacted with public safety departments from in and out of East Orange, those professionals we collaborate with in the field.”

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The participating departments were from the East Orange Police, East Orange Fire, Orange Police and Fire (Combined), Essex County Sheriff Office, Hudson County Corrections, New Jersey State Department of Corrections, NJ Storm, and Newark Public Safety.

Instead of the traditional tournament where there is only one champion, organizers decided to do a "showcase style"; this means four games in total with a trophy given to the winner of each game.

The champions of the 2020 Battle of the Badges who now have bragging rights for a year are, East Orange Police, East Orange Fire, Newark Public Safety, and the NJ Department of Corrections.

Tickets were on sale for $4 for adults and $2 for children. All proceeds went to the East Orange Police Athletic League Safe Haven. Safe Haven is the appropriately titled youth program that the East Orange Police department has under the Police Athletic League. Its goal is to keep children off the streets by providing a safe space, positive interactions with role models, all while learning a sport or game. Currently, the program has football, basketball, boxing, and mentoring for boys and girls. In the summer of 2019, three of the Safe Haven youth won in boxing at the NJ State Diamond Glove Championship coached by Devon Holder and Officer Johnson.

“We are looking to add more programs for the youth and trying to raise more money to expand. Perhaps golf, bowling, and chess,” said Officer Johnson. “Safe Haven also changes the perception some youth have against cops. Some kids may think we want to discipline and lock people up. No, we want to improve and interact with the community, be positive role models, steer the kids into something positive before the streets get them. We want to protect and serve."

If you or someone you know wants to get involved in the mission to improve police and community relations, donations for Safe Haven are being accepted. Checks can be made payable to East Orange Safe Haven PAL, and mailed to 15 South Munn Ave., East Orange, NJ 07018, Attn: Community Relations Division. For questions please reach out to Lt. Y. Johnson at 973-266-5070.

If you are interested in enrolling a child into Safe Haven, the program is free for youth to participate. Guardians can pick applications up at the Community Relations Department inside 15 South Munn Ave., East Orange, NJ 07018. Participating ages vary depending on the activity.