Trespassing certainly isn’t the most serious crime out there, but in the state of Illinois, it carries a penalty of up to six months in jail and a maximum fine of $500. One teenager in the Chicago area was willing to take his chances, and repeatedly trespassed into the X-Sport Fitness Center. After being caught multiple times, Operations Manager Justin Pritchett warned the teen that if he were to be caught again, he’d be forced to call the police.
The teenager, reportedly 15 years old, did show up again, and Pritchett said “We had no choice but to contact police.” The teenager did have a membership to the fitness center at one point, but Pritchett says that “his mother could not afford to pay for it anymore and it expired. All he wanted to do was play basketball.”
That meant that the teen was walking past the front desk in the mornings, then hiding in the bathroom until the coast was clear. When he got the signal, he headed out onto the courts to play pickup games of basketball with his peers. Pritchett then called the police, and it was Officer Mario Valenti that responded.
Valenti understood that the teen didn’t want to cause any harm, and simply wanted to be in a safe area where he could play basketball with friends. Because of that, Valenti made an offer that surprised the team at X-Sport. He offered to pay $150 of his own money to get the membership valid once again, and the management notified Valenti that that would be good for four months worth of membership.
Pleasantly surprised by the situation, Pritchett made an offer of his own, with the $150 going toward a two-year membership for the teenager while X-Sport Fitness paid for the rest. “We all were flabbergasted here,” Pritchett said. “I know X-Sport takes care of our members so after we ran a background check and found out he had no other trouble, we went ahead.”
The teenager is Vincent Gonzales, who was also floored that Valenti and Pritchett were willing to shell out hundreds of dollars to help him keep playing basketball. “I thought it was really nice. I texted him and I said ‘thank you.’ That meant a lot,” Gonzales said. “For the officer to respond the way he did and turn a negative situation into an unbelievably positive situation, that’s just fantastic,” Pritchett added.
Gonzales, it turns out, is actually a highly rated basketball player that has dreams of playing college basketball, or even professionally. “I just want to play basketball (and Valenti) don’t want to see me on the streets,” Gonzales said. Valenti agreed, saying “I told them I’d rather see him on the basketball court than out on the streets.” Pritchett had thought that Valenti was going to offer Gonzales a warning or even write him a fine, but instead decided to go with the humble act to get him the membership.
Valenti says he’s happy for the attention, especially as the work of a police officer is being put in a positive light. “You get satisfaction out of helping people, especially because our job is so negative,” he said. It was rare for Valenti to use his own money to help out someone that he’s encountered on his job, but he was happy to do it. “At the end of the day, it’s not about gratitude,” he said. “Most of us took this job to help people, not to hurt them…For the most part, the job is dealing with good people having a very bad day so you’re not seeing the best side of people.”
Valenti would go on to say that Gonzales’ perception of police officers had changed because of the situation, which was also gratifying. “It seems like all that’s represented (in the media) with police is the bad stuff, and it’s a shame, because when I took this job 23 years ago, I didn’t think everyone was going to hate you, which is sometimes the feeling you get as a police officer,” he said.
Police spokesman Eric Swaback said that “The good stories (about police) are not out there. People don’t always know about them. Police do good things all the time, but unfortunately, people have no way to hear about them.” Valenti agreed, saying “Nobody makes a big deal out of (positive stories), but that stuff happens all the time with police officers. That’s not just me. That’s all of us.”