QCS Senior Writer
A stranger who is a police officer is a good person to talk if children are confronted by strangers who could do them harm.
That was a big part of the first message Tucumcari police officers delivered to San Jon school children in first through fifth grades Monday afternoon as they introduced a program designed to educate and familiarize students with local law enforcement.
After San Jon school officials asked Tucumcari Police Department about speaking to school children, Sgt. Bryan Holmes said he discussed the idea with Chief Jason Braziel. They agreed such programs could cover a broad range of subjects and change children’s perception of police officers.
Holmes said many children only encounter law enforcement officers when the officers are responding to a call. In many cases those encounters are not favorable, he said.
“Some children are excited when they see an officer but will not approach the officer because they are intimidated,” he said.
School officials agreed that children should be comfortable with police.
“The idea is to have our students encounter and interact with the officers in a positive manner,” said Colin Taylor, superintendent of San Jon Schools. “This will help them identify the police and know that are here to protect and serve.”
Encounters like Monday afternoon’s session, Taylor said, give students a chance to meet officers first-hand and learn about many matters important to them.
Holmes said Tucumcari officers jumped right into the program and selected stranger danger as the first topic. Children need to learn about why strangers can be dangerous and know what to do if a stranger approaches them, he said.
Children should know first and foremost, he said, they should never leave with a stranger. If approached by a stranger, he said, a child should immediately notify an adult.
Officers Kenneth Fernandez, Eric Padilla, Michael Ray and Holmes spoke with children in classrooms from first grade through fifth.
Fernandez said it is important for children to know they can encounter strangers even in their own neighborhoods.
There is a difference between a stranger and a bad stranger, he said.
Fernandez said children encounter strangers in public at grocery stores and even around their homes. Some are travelers, shoppers, workers or new residents. He said encounters with most strangers don’t raise any need for alarm.
Bad strangers, however, will approach children when they are alone or with another friend and try to persuade the children to leave with them, Fernandez said. Sometimes they will even say they know a child’s parents and were asked to come and take the children to the parents.
Fernandez said when children encounter a stranger like this, they should get to safety and immediately notify a parent, a police officer or another familiar adult about what happened.
Holmes said sometimes children don’t want to notify an adult or are scared to tell an officer about something that happened. The officers stressed to the children that notifying an adult is important and can help to make a difference in keeping them safe, Holmes said.
Holmes said he hopes the outreach program will help students become comfortable speaking with police officers.
The first step, he said, is gaining their trust. The second is to educate them on how to stay safe.