Courtesy Matt Pendleton Photography
A minute after 5 p.m. on a Friday evening, Officer Bobby White of the Gainesville, Florida, police department got a call from dispatch about a noise complaint—some teens playing basketball. Officer White’s dash-cam video shows him pulling up outside a home in a down-and-out part of town. A teen stops playing as the officer walks toward him.
“I could tell he was like, ‘Great, the cops are here. How’s this gonna go?’” says White, now 48. To put him at ease, White said, “Can you believe that someone’s calling about kids playing basketball?” Then he put his hand out for the ball. The tentative teen gave it to him. White turned toward the basket and clanked a shot off the rim. As a playground courtesy, the teen tossed the ball back to White, who nailed his next shot. It was like a signal—kids began streaming out from the home of one of the boys to join in the shootaround.
The video shows White and the kids laughing and shooting for 13 minutes. They even lowered the hoop so that the five-foot-ten cop could dunk the ball. As he left, he told them to have fun and asked that they watch the noise. That was that, he thought—an officer doing his job. (This is how one basketball fan became close friends with Charles Barkley.)
But that wasn’t the end of the story. The police department’s information officer, always looking to highlight the positive things his officers do, put the dash-cam tape online. Within a week, it was viewed over five million times. Suddenly, businesses and individuals touched by the officer’s compassion started sending sporting equipment to the police department with a message: “Give these to Officer White.” But what caught White off guard was another comment he heard: “We need more cops like you.”
“I know this was meant as a compliment,” White says. “But there are tons of cops ‘like me’ who go above and beyond.” To prove his point, White created the Basketball Cop Foundation. Since its inception in 2016, the foundation has supplied sports equipment to more than 50 police departments around the country so that other officers have what they need to go out on the streets and re-create the experience White gave those kids that day.
White’s not naïve. He knows that the happy ending between a white cop and a bunch of minority kids is what made the video go viral. “Honestly, I wish the video wouldn’t have been popular,” he says. “I wish people would’ve looked at it and said, ‘That’s how I would expect that interaction to go.’” After all, he was just doing what thousands of cops do every day.
(These are other things police officers wish you knew.)