STURGIS | For kids who believe there’s nothing else to do in a small town except get into trouble, Detective Joe Leveque of the Sturgis Police Department has not just one but several alternatives.
There’s plenty of good things to do, thanks to Leveque, Sturgis Police Chief Geody VanDewater and a local chapter of the Police Athletic League.
Leveque brought the PAL program to Sturgis in 2017 as a way to keep a local youth boxing club going.
His boys were involved in the club, and Leveque was approached by a coach who asked if the police department could help in fundraising. The club was struggling to pay the rent on a small training space in west Sturgis.
Leveque formed the first and only PAL program in the state, and secured mentoring grants to get the boxing program in a new building.
The goal was to not just prop up the boxing program, it was to give police a way to positively interact with local youth in hopes of deterring juvenile crime.
From the boxing ring, that positive PAL involvement grew to other activities.
Leveque partnered with the South Dakota Department of Game, Fish & Parks for a Sturgis Step Outside event at Bear Butte State Park, offering kids the chance to try archery shooting, BB gun shooting and fishing. Also included were trapping demonstrations and wildlife education provided through the SDGF&P Outdoor Campus West in Rapid City.
“I don’t want to take all the thunder. We try to partner up with the local agencies because it takes a lot of people to do it,” Leveque said.
The highlight of the day was providing 110 kids new fishing poles, purchased by the Police Athletic League.
“All the kids were tickled to get new fishing poles,” he said.
The Sturgis PAL Youth Boxing Club ranges from 10 to 35 kids participating, ebbing and flowing with other sports seasons in town, he said.
Last week three boxers participated in a tournament in Eagle Butte. Two won trophies and the group won the team award, he said.
VanDewater leads involvement with mountain bike activities, hosting Saturday morning bike rides with 10 to 25 riders taking part.
"That’s been super popular,” Leveque said. “Not only with the kids, but with the kids’ parents. They’ll come along and help ride and keep herd on all the kids.”
Another successful endeavor at the end of the season last year was the Black Hills Youth Mountain Bike Championships, which drew 135 riders.
That event led to Leveque and VanDewater joining up with the Black Hills Mountain Bike Association and Black Hills Trails to host a five-race youth race series this summer, with races in Sturgis, Spearfish, Lead-Deadwood, Rapid City and Hot Springs.
“We’re pretty proud of that, too,” Leveque said. “Anything we can do to get the kids out doing something different than what they’re used to doing.”
Earlier this spring, Leveque was recognized for his efforts for youth in the community with the South Dakota Police Chiefs and South Dakota Sheriffs’ Associations Officer of the Year Award.
According to a release, the award is for exceptional achievement in any police endeavor, including extraordinary valor, crime prevention, investigative work, community policing, traffic safety, drug control and prevention, juvenile programs and training programs.
“I was very honored and humbled to receive such an award,” Leveque said.