Program brings IMPD officers, children together

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When thousands of young people visit the Indiana Convention Center this weekend for Indiana Black Expo Summer Celebration, police will work to keep them safe. A program is helping officers and youth get to know each other better in the hopes of preventing crime.

The Indianapolis Metro Police Department invited kids 8 to 15 years old to the East District headquarters Thursday to learn how they can help keep the peace in the streets in their neighborhoods. That's important for 15-year-old Robert Parrish, who's seen kids act up in his neighborhood.

"This past weekend was particularly busy for police in my east side neighborhood near Germanchurch Road," said Parrish. "People messing with people's mailboxes, putting fireworks and stuff in there, fights and slamming people on the ground and stuff like that."

The East District invitation involves officers trying to break down barriers between police and young people. They talk in group sessions about everything from their police gear to family and pets to their favorite foods. Lt. Eric Hench even shared photos of his family with his group session and the kids were surprised to learn about his children and pet dog at home.

"This is one way to let the kids know that we are not just the person in the uniform or passing police car," said Lt. Hench.

The children also got a "show and tell" of the bomb squad's remote control robot after meeting bomb squad officers.  Most of the children have only seen the robots on television when there is a threat of some kind.

Lt. Hench added, "It's huge to make those kind of connections and to personalize the police department in the eyes of the kids."

The students also got to touch IMPD Police motorcycles they've only seen in passing. Sgt. Curtis Hanks went into details about their extensive training and, more importantly, the safety measures they take as police officers.

"We have to stay alert while riding especially in heavy traffic so we can react to drivers who may not see us," said Hanks.

Latiyah Radford, 10, wants to have a good relationship with police and expects to see them downtown during Summer Celebration.

"You can make a lot of friends when you are a police officer, and you don't have to be afraid when you see them and get all nervous," said Latiyah.

IMPD Officer Candi Perry organized the Cop-Kid Event and recruited officers to participate along with other city and county agencies like the Marion County Prosecutor's Office. Perry believes kids learning as much as possible about law enforcement at a young age will result in a higher respect for the law. She sent out invitations to summer day camps like Pride Academy, which hosts about 600 children in all at several locations across the metro area.

"This will hopefully force young people to think twice when they are challenged to do the right thing," said Perry, "and when they go downtown this weekend they are going to remember there are some officers that I saw that are really looking out for our best interest."

Perry hopes to eventually invite many more kids from other summer camps to participate in the future. Officers say chances are these kids will encounter police sooner than later so learning their specific role in keeping their own neighborhood peaceful is a win-win.