‘We have fun together:’ MPD officers who shoot hoops with kids keep the games going despite adversity

MILWAUKEE -- Shared passions bring people together and build bonds that can have a lasting impact. Basketball and a crime did this and more for a group of Milwaukee police officers and young people.

FOX6 News first spotted two uniformed Milwaukee police officers and a group of young people playing basketball in the street at 35th and Custer in June of 2017.

Officer Joseph Spingola explained how the pickup games came to be.

“I asked them. I said, ‘can I play with you?’ They all kinda looked at each other like they were looking for a hidden camera, like it was some kind of a sting or something, and then as soon as I made the first three-pointer, it was 'alright,'” said Spingola.

MPD Officer Joseph Spingola

Karlton Knight, then 11, said it became natural.

"'Cause they play basketball with us like, mostly every day, and I get used to it," said Knight.

Knight called the officers friends. His younger sister, Kyla Knight, said she likes them too.

“I like them because we have fun together," said Kyla Knight.

The ballers pause every so often to let a car pass through. Last year, the area was one the city's designated "Promise Zones" -- a strategic effort to help residents find jobs, resources and enforce public safety, but this spring, the dribbling stopped. Someone stole the hoop.

“I had asked my mama could she buy me a new one, but then that's when he pulled up," said Karlton, now 12.

When the kids told Officer Spingola what happened to the hoop, the officers decided to replace it.

“We figured if we bought them a new hoop, we'd give them a nice cable lock they can secure to a tree so they can't steal it," said Spingola.

Karlton Knight spread the word.

"I had told everybody I know that we got a new court," said Knight.

It was a happy ending for a while. During the summer, someone tampered with the hoop. The bottom assembly was missing, keeping the hoop from standing upright.

"Because they couldn't get it off of the porch and steal the hoop, they just decided to steal the parts that kept the hoop together," said Spingola.

He and Officer Matthew Bongel came up with a makeshift solution, using two screwdrivers to substitute for the missing part.

Then, it was game on once again. The dribbling, shooting, running and shouting were back in high gear.

The bond with the men in blue goes beyond the kids, spreading to the community.

“Who’s winning?” asked a motorist, who temporarily stopped the action.

“The kids, like usual," said Spingola,

The men all laughed and exchanged a few more words. Then, as the motorist drove away, he said: "Thank you for your service."

"You're welcome, man," said Spingola.

The officers said what they do is not a big deal because they are part of the community and they care, but it certainly is making a big impression on these young ones who they serve and protect.