• 59°

Expand police outreach program even more

EDITORIAL

Each one of us carries some measure of childlike enthusiasm, some amount of wonder and curiosity waiting to be unleashed by a new experience.

On Wednesday at the Suffolk Police Department’s Precinct 2 off of Bridge Road, a group of senior citizens giggled like kids at a candy store as they took turns sitting in a police cruiser, listening to presentations by a member of the city’s SWAT team inside the SWAT van, holding an assault rifle, watching a police robot roll across the floor on tracks and straddling police-edition personal watercraft.

The sounds of sirens echoed across the parking lot and the flashing blue lights accompanying them illuminated an open garage nearby. And everywhere around, participants in the city’s Senior Citizens Academy laughed and chatted and asked questions of the police special operations officers on hand.

The hands-on show-and-tell event was the final class in an eight-session program that was designed to help the police department connect with an important segment of the community.

For those senior citizens that participated, the classes provided a wealth of information about how the police department operates, how to be more aware of potential dangers around them, how to keep themselves safe and how they can help the police keep Suffolk safe.

With the preponderance of police dramas on television, officials said Wednesday, many citizens have unrealistic expectations about law enforcement. Myths are created about the ability of crime scene investigators to use forensic evidence to solve crimes, and people who rely on television dramas to form their opinions of the police often come to incorrect conclusions.

Furthermore, the news reports of fatal officer-involved shootings from places like Ferguson, Mo., North Charleston, S.C., and even here in Suffolk and other cities in Hampton Roads, contribute to an environment in which police officers legitimately trying to do their jobs face distrust from the citizens they’re trying to help.

Officials with Suffolk’s police department hope programs such as the Senior Citizens Academy will help solve those problems here, and judging from the reactions of those attending Wednesday’s event, who will soon receive certificates for completing the program, the strategy is a successful one.

Participants were engaged with the presentations, they were eager to learn and they talked about their growing respect for the work that law enforcement officers do each day.

“It’s a great program, and I think every place that has a police department should have one for its senior citizens,” said Louis Perkins, who took the classes last year and has been volunteering to do clerical work for the police department this year.

Indeed. And whether other municipalities decide to model programs after the ones Suffolk does for senior citizens and for youth, the city should continue its outreach efforts to those groups. In fact, we suspect there are plenty of people in the city falling between those two age groups who would appreciate the chance to attend a similar program.

Perhaps that could be a good next step in the department’s community outreach efforts.