STERLING, Ill. (KWQC) — Relationships between police departments and the communities they serve are tense right now in much of the country. So, officers in one Illinois community are trying a new tactic and they’re starting small.
“We really have to develop more of a cohesive relationship with our citizens,” said Chief Tim Morgan. He’s starting a new initiative and it’s encouraging officers within his department to go back to school.
“I wanted to get officers having contact with younger kids,” Chief Morgan said. “I managed to get 18 officers, including myself, to volunteer to participate in the program.”
The program is called 2nd Step and almost every officer in the department is volunteering to spend time in elementary classrooms. Those officers are participating with the curriculum.
“It teaches things like empathy, problem solving, conflict resolution,” said Lincoln Elementary School’s principal, Cindy Frank. “Kind of those basic life skills that kids need modeled for them and then they practice them.”
2nd Step was already part of the lesson plan. It’s been part of the curriculum for about ten years.
But involving the men and women in blue? That’s a first.
“The younger we can get to the kids and show them that police officers can be postive role models, the better off we’ll be,” Chief Morgan said.
The numerous officers involved in the program are showing kids right from wrong. But they’re also showing them a softer side of law enforcement.
“I feel comfortable around him because he’s really funny and he’s nice,” said Alexys Poff, 5th grade.
“He helps us and participates in everything that we do and he’s a really fun guy to be around,” said Olivia Leal, 5th grade.
The Sterling Police Department is trying to slowly eliminate the fear so the community will feel more comfortable asking an officer for help.
“If I needed to, then I won’t be too scared to talk to them,” Leal said.
And just like any good relationship, it goes both ways.
“They’re the highlight of my day,” Chief Morgan said.