Washington Township police had to cancel numerous events because of the COVID-19 pandemic, so the department found a new way to interact with the community.
About 50 officers, out of the 80 in the department, volunteered to put their faces on baseball cards that are also personalized with quotes and some facts about the policemen. The aim is for young township residents to walk up to officers and receive an officer’s baseball card.
The first boy and girl to collect 20 out of 50 cards will receive a $200 gift card to Walmart.
“Now was a ‘down time’ due to the pandemic,” said police Chief Patrick Gursick. “It kind of crushed a lot of our outreach events that we would do throughout the summer. I thought this initiative would be a good way to reconnect.”
The police department has a goal of community outreach and caretaking, but the pandemic has made venturing out more difficult than ever. With its new baseball card initiative, the department can once again interact with the community in a safe and positive way, according to Gursick.
“The police department did something similar in 1993, and it was hugely popular,” he said. “I thought it would really enhance the community caretaking efforts and would create more positive interactions between our officers and the young children in town.”
Sgt. Nick Myers said he recalls similar initiatives by other departments.
“I thought it was a pretty cool initiative,” he noted. “I remember when I was younger, I saw police departments that had those baseball cards, and we hadn’t done it since I have been employed with Washington Township.”
Township residents are encouraged to walk up to officers who may be patrolling parks or neighborhoods. Gursick hinted that the best time to receive a generous amount of cards is during shift change at the police station, when numerous officers are out and about at once.
While the card initiative is meant to help residents meet officers in a safe and enjoyable environment, residents are encouraged not to approach a policeman who is on call or conducting a traffic stop.
“As the cards get distributed throughout the community, the kids in the district will be able to recognize us,” Myers said. “I know that it’s hard in suburban communities, because we are in our cars.”
Myers acknowledged that in vast coverage areas like Washington Township and other suburbs, officers may spend much of their time in squad cars, making it difficult for residents to come in contact with them in an everyday setting. The cards present an opportunity to walk up to officers in any setting and interact with them.
“Handing these cards out with pictures of us and a little bit about ourselves, with mine I tried to put in a little more about my personality. They might be able to get to know us a little bit,” Myers said. “Maybe at first by recognition, but maybe (they) think, ‘Hey, that guy looks approachable because I saw a picture of him with a skateboard on his baseball card.’”
The baseball card initiative will be kicked off later this week, and all residents are encouraged to participate. The police department will also post a list of all 50 officers participating should any residents want to collect all 50 cards, as it will help them determine the officers for which they still need cards.
“We are trying to create a culture where kids shouldn’t be afraid of police officers,” Gursick said. “We are really here to help others. Law enforcement is just a tiny part of what we do.
“Helping others is what we are here to do.”