The Gloucester Township Police Department took part in School Police Appreciation Week from Monday, May 20 to 23. All week long, the police toured the schools in Gloucester Township. The GTPD got to teach the students of James W. Lilley Elementary School about the unique units within the department to connect better with police.
The entire week is designed to create good relationships with students and police before bad relationships are created. Lt. John Stollsteimer, with the GTPD’s special response team, spoke with students, demonstrated some of the tools the police use and let the third-grade class tour the specialized service truck.
“We found that we weren’t arresting our way out of problems, and that’s when we got into juvenile diversion, trying to divert our juveniles from the juvenile justice system, either their first time entering it or prior to them entering it. This is one of the ways that we do it. We come out here and humanize the police officer, show them what we have and how we use it, just to interact with them,” said Stollsteimer.
The police know that these types of activities and programs can be very beneficial as the kids start to recognize the police more and interact with them in a friendly manner.
“We are forming this relationship so we can become a trusted adult. If they see us and they need something, we can help. We are just trying to make the connection with the community,” said Stollsteimer.
While the special response team was keeping the third-grade classes amused with its specialized equipment and teamwork drills, the K-9 units only needed their four-legged friends to have the fourth-grade class at the school hanging on every word.
K-9 officers Zeke and Zeus were making their rounds for police week with their partners Ptl. Stephen Centrone and Ptl. Shane Franz.
“We just like to go out in the community and let them see the dogs. A lot of people think that they’re just here to bite everybody. Really a lot of the kids like to see the dogs anywhere, they’ll stop me driving down the street and ask to see the dogs,” said Franz.
Both officers believe this a great opportunity to reach the kids at a young age and get them excited about seeing the police.
The students were able to pet the dogs, observe them perform duties and take police commands. They learned how important it is for the K-9 officers and their partners to be in sync to get their jobs done.
Nick Palumbo, who teaches third grade at Lilley, was able to witness what the officers were able to convey to the students to help them understand what the officers’ jobs are about and how they can be a help to the community.
“There are always cops in the school that walk around to the classrooms, so the kids get to see the cops every day. They see exactly what they do. They see police in video games. They are aware of their equipment, but they never see it in real life or have an explanation of real-life situations. This is helpful for them,” said Palumbo.