The youngest of five brothers, 15-year-old Joseph Faaaliga says that his contacts with the police have often been unpleasant.
But on Wednesday, Faaaliga was clutching a basketball, a gift from police officers who distributed toys to about 300 children in his neighborhood--the rows of apartments on Flower Street, Shelley Drive and Kensington Lane.
"This is nice," Faaaliga said. "A lot of children here do not have presents this Christmas."
Reaching out to children before they become police problems was the idea behind the gift-giving effort, said Police Capt. Scott Jordan, who helped coordinate the gift distribution.
Jordan said that during the Christmas season, more than 2,500 gifts donated by people and business owners will be given away in three high-crime areas in the city--Stuart Drive, the Buena-Clinton neighborhood and the Flower-Shelley-Kensington neighborhood.
"It helps the community open up to us," said Officer Tom Gstrein, who distributed the gifts Wednesday with his partner, Carlos Bautista, and some volunteers.
As part of the city's community policing program, Gstrein and Bautista were assigned six months ago to the Flower-Shelley-Kensington neighborhood, where they operate a substation in one of the apartments.
Residents welcomed their presence in the neighborhood, where auto thefts, gang fights and drug deals used to be common.
"They have done a great job," said Maria Asa, who has lived in the neighborhood for more than two years. "Everybody here appreciates it."