LA CROSSE, WI (WKBT) - Police officers can have a stereotype of being the enforcers, the ones who come around when something bad happens or to give you a ticket.
Positive role models can be hard to come by for kids, but when they do step up to the plate, they can make a world of a difference, especially when they come from unexpected places.
About once a week, La Crosse Police Officer Nathan Poke trades in his handcuffs for a Nerf football.
"It's obviously football season; they're back in school now, it's football. We're playing catch, running routes and having fun," said Poke.
Decked out in full uniform, Poke was caught on camera hanging out with his neighborhood buddies.
"It used to be I'd roll up and they'd peek around to see who it is and now I'll go around the corner down at the park or something and I'll hear them yell, 'Officer Poke! Officer Poke!' They'll wave at me, want me to pull up next to them so they can pull up next to me and talk to me on their bikes," said Poke.
Poke isn't the only friend in uniform these kids have.
Officer Trenton Bowe and his partner Zaback also stop by whenever they can.
"Officer Poke asked if I was busy that day and I happened to not be so I swung over here and seeing Officer Poke interacting with the kids and got out with my partner here that just wanted to show them how to play," said Bowe.
And while Poke and Bowe are extremely popular with the kids, the jury is still out on Zaback.
"The dogs I don't like," said one. "I love the dogs," said another. "I think they're going to bite me."22861522
Hanging out with their friends is a special break for Poke and Bowe, but it's also a chance to set an example and teach the kids that police officers are more than just enforcers.
"I love it. It's very refreshing. It's nice to be able to come out of the aggressive element where we're on our toes and there's crimes going on to where you can take some time and interact with people that are doing good things, because we don't get to do that enough," said Poke.
"At first they're like, 'Are these your kids?' and I'm like, 'Yeah, what did they do?' Those were my first words and they were like, 'Nothing. I just want them to play with the dogs, play football and interact with the kids,'" said mom Karen Carter.
And little by little, one football scrimmage at a time, Poke and Bowe have turned into something other than just a badge and a gun.
"They get so excited when they're here, 'Oh the police is here, let's play football, ice cream.' They just know it's going to be fun and that's what I like about it. It's not, 'Oh the police, they're coming to lock someone up' or stuff like that," said Carter.
As Poke and Bowe continue to build relationships and break stereotypes, it's clear these friendships are not just for a season.
Poke and Bowe are on duty when they hang out with the kids.
The La Crosse Police Department says it's the type of community interaction they encourage all their officers to make.
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