BACK OF THE BOOK – Wetzel
By Tom Wetzel
By Tom Wetzel
Most people are familiar with The Runaway painting by Norman Rockwell that shows a kid sitting next to an officer in a diner. Cops and kids have always had special relationships as police officers often have a role of a Guardian Angel and role model for little ones. The fact that the little boy feels comfortable next the officer speaks volumes of the role we have with kids. We protect them and they trust us.
Police officers have a lot of opportunities to interact with kids during a tour of duty. Some of these contacts may initially involve a negative environment such as a domestic violence call where children are under stress. But our actions, however slight or simple, during those incidents and other personal interactions can form opinions about us for these little ones that go well into adulthood. We certainly want those perspectives to be positive. Understanding this better should help influence an agency’s community policing strategies to include how to best connect with young people. Developing their trust and support early is important.
There are all kinds of different ways that cops reach out to kids from programs that teach them Internet safety like e-Copp, how to look both ways when crossing the street through Safety Town or how to avoid drugs through DARE. Sometimes it may involve cops reaching out to teenagers through athletic leagues. Other times, it may be a friendly wave or stopping to chat with them during a foot patrol. But many of these officer friendly contacts can be enhanced when a cop hands a little gift to a kid. Now the positive memory is enriched further due to the child getting something along with the kindness of the officer.
When looking for a reasonable priced item that can fit in an officer’s uniform shirt, consider police sticker badges for little tykes. Having handed many of them out, it is easy to see the value these have for both kids and their parents. The fun looks on the faces of young toddler to early primary grade kids and the appreciation of their parents will make it obvious to an officer just how special this community relations opportunity can be.
I have occasionally noted at times what appears to be an initial suspicion particularly from a parent when I begin to approach them. This may be the result of negative contacts they have had with cops over the years or disinformation they have heard or read about. Entrenched bias can be a particularly difficult fence to hurdle for a police officer. But doing an act of simple kindness toward a child of someone who feels this way can be a fine start. An officer will likely find that the initial suspicious or contentious look almost always washes away when a law enforcement officer suddenly hands their child a small gift. The initial look may change to a genuine smile.
Handing a kid a little police badge sticker is a natural extension of our special relationship and an officer will quickly recognize the mileage these simple sticky pieces of paper have to build on that friendship. The fact that these stickers are police badges also present an early recruiting opportunity for us. That young runaway, so poignantly depicted by Norman Rockwell, may one day grow up to be a cop.