South Queens NYPD sergeant honored with award for exemplary community service

Sgt. James Clarke_2
2023 Sloan Public Service Award recipient NYPD Sgt. James Clarke (c.) receives a a $10,000 prize during an award ceremony at I.S. 231 in Springfield Gardens on Tuesday, Aug. 1.
Photo by Carlotta Mohamed

NYPD Sgt. James Clarke, a community affairs officer who is at the helm of the Youth Police Academy at I.S. 231 in Springfield Gardens, was honored with a prestigious public service award for his dedication to helping young people in the community on Tuesday, Aug. 2. 

Clarke was humbled to receive the 2023 Sloan Public Service Award during a ceremony held in the auditorium at I.S. 231, located at 145-00 Springfield Blvd., with officials from the Fund for the City of New York, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, NYPD Deputy Commissioner Mark Stewart and approximately 155 kids he mentors at the school. 

Kids participating in Clarke’s summer Police Youth Academy fill the auditorium at I.S. 231 in Springfield Gardens for the awards ceremony on Tuesday, Aug. 1.Photo by Carlotta Mohamed

“I’m speechless. This never happens every other day. It’s still a little surreal for me right now thinking about this,” Clarke said. “They offered me to do it at different places of my employment and they were kind enough to allow me to do it in front of my children, my kids, my family and that means the world to me to share this special day with my family.”

NYPD Sgt. James Clarke speaks at an awards ceremony honoring him for his service to the community at I.S. 231 in Springfield Gardens on Tuesday, Aug. 1.Photo by Carlotta Mohamed

Known as the “Nobel Prize of Public Service,” the Sloan Public Service Awards is supported by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation for over two decades. The awards honor six civil servants each year who exhibit an extraordinary level of commitment to the public. They routinely step beyond the bounds of their job responsibilities to ensure that New Yorkers’ needs are met. 

This year, seven award winners were carefully selected by a distinguished panel, and thanked for their exemplary work through an award ceremony, a $10,000 prize, and a commemorative video, portrait and brochure.  

“His commitment to young people signified to the selection panel that protection of citizens can be enabled by protection by protecting young people’s dreams and lives. That was a sense and calling to duty of a police officer that he was so deeply committed to,” said Aldrin Bonilla, executive vice president of the Fund for the City of New York.

In his remarks, Adam Falk, president of the Sloan Foundation, noted Clarke’s life-changing impact on the youth in Queens South. 

“You made a difference that any of us would be proud and grateful to have a chance to make one tiny part of, so thank you for everything you’ve done,” Falk said. 

Many of his colleagues, residents, and youth emphasized how Clarke embodies the true essence of policing and public safety through values such as love, respect, compassion, empathy, community engagement, and mentorship. 

NYPD Sgt. James Clarke joined by with officials from the Fund for the City of New York, Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, NYPD Deputy Commissioner Mark Stewart and youth at the awards ceremony at I.S. 231 in Springfield Gardens on Tuesday, Aug. 1.Photo by Carlotta Mohamed

“This man is so compassionate about what he does with the Youth Police Academy. He takes this to heart. I’ve seen him at Baisley Pond Park going around to every kid,” Stewart said. 

Reverend Dr. Alfonso Wyatt, founder of Strategic Destiny, who nominated Clarke for the award, referred to him  as a “brother, person and light” who fits in with the community.

“I invited him to the church to talk to young people about what to do if you’re stopped by the police, and I’ve had other people do that workshop, but there’s something about his workshop gauging young people. He has authority, respect,” Wyatt said. 

Tyler Bond, joined by his family members on stage, thanked Clarke for his mentorship and for helping his family in their time of need. 

“He always checked on us over the phone. I knew it was genuine because he has done it before in the past,” said Bond, who has participated in the Youth Police Academy and has known Clarke for 11 years. 

Clarke, who grew up and resides in St. Albans, had dreamed of becoming a professional basketball player. As a senior at August Martin High School, Clarke was studying to become a future pilot, however, his career path changed when the NYPD gave a presentation to his class. 

Clarke’s sister told him that he would be a “great cop” after watching him mentor other kids. After graduating from August Martin in 1979, Clarke took the NYPD entrance exam. While in college, he received a phone call from the NYPD and went to the Police Academy. 

Clarke began his career with the NYPD in the 100th Precinct in the Rockaways until he transitioned to the 32nd Precinct in Harlem to work undercover in street enforcement of narcotics during the crack epidemic. Clarke wondered about how he could best engage with civilians. He pivoted to working alongside communities and became a plain-clothes detective in Bedford-Stuyvesant.

A promotion to sergeant in 1998 led him to work in Crown Heights for 10 years, overseeing responses to domestic violence cases. To help people feel comfortable calling the NYPD, he became a constant presence at community events, took part in food and toy drives, and ran the NYPD’s Youth Police Academy.

In 2009, Clarke took on his current role as a community affairs officer in Springfield Gardens, where he mentors approximately 155 kids who participate in the summer Youth Police Academy at I.S. 231. The free six-week program gives young individuals between the ages of 10 to 15 the opportunity to train with police officers, leading to positive relationships between the Police Department and the city’s youth. 

“We are the site where our motto is ‘No child left behind,’” Clarke said. 

The kids participate in drills, talent shows, public speaking, physical training, and are taught to be responsible citizens. Clark is also teaching his students about different cultures in their communities. 

“Growing up here in St. Albans, I wasn’t really culturally aware in my neighborhood. I didn’t know about the Sikh, Jewish and Muslim communities at that time back in the day,” Clarke said. “I want my kids to be more culturally aware. Every student talks about their culture. I always tell them to be proud of who you are, where you come from and where your family comes from.” 

As he ran the Youth Police Academy, Clarke tried to bring fathers and other male role models back into the lives of their children through a weekly movie night, only to learn that the kids didn’t have adult men in their lives. 

“It was heartbreaking but heart-melting at the same time,” Clarke said. “A 13-year-old girl came up to me and said ‘Can you be my dad for movie night?’” 

That’s when Clarke and his team members decided to make it into a family movie night with refreshments and popcorn. 

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Clarke was praised for keeping kids engaged through his own Youth Police Academy that he funded. They would gather at Springfield Park to do activities and would take trips to places in the city. 

After a fulfilling 40 year career with the NYPD, Clarke is set to retire in February 2024. He doesn’t quite yet know what his plans are, but he credits the kids in the community that kept him going all these years. 

“They have accomplished so much in their lives and they continue to do that,” Clarke said.