The relationship between police officers and the communities they serve has become a heated topic across the country.
As the Ann Arbor Police Department’s Community Engagement Sergeant, Tom Hickey believes the chasm can be crossed, to the benefit of all.
He and fellow Community Engagement Officer Doug Martelle spend several hours every week at Lawton Elementary, reading to the students and talking about important safety issues that affect them all.
“A lot of these kids have never had any contact with the police,” said Hickey during a break at a recent visit to Lawton.
And if they’ve heard anything at all, he said, it may be something negative picked up from a parent or the media.
“We’re hoping to let them see a police officer, get to know them, spend time with them in the lunchroom, reading, as community helpers, and hopefully building a bond,” he said, just before a line of students walking to lunch gave him one high five after another.
He said the summertime Safety Town program that teaches safety awareness to incoming kindergarteners and first graders has fostered this kind of relationship-building for years.
This 18-month-old community engagement endeavor helps that much more, he saisd.
“You can see it in the classroom – the connection between the police and the kids,” he said. “And we’re hoping to let that grow.”
In fact, Hickey—who has a master’s degree in leadership—said he knew it was a good fit as soon as he walked into Lawton and read all the signs about leadership.
Lawton is focusing this year on Stephen R. Covey’s “The Leader in Me”, a school-wide transformation model that helps equip students with the self-confidence and skills they need to thrive in the 21st-century economy.
Lawton kindergarten teacher Laurie J. Moore said the kids already became comfortable with the officers through their involvement with Safety Town prior to kindergarten, and the staff knows them through the ALICE emergency preparation training.
So their weekly visits to the school are much anticipated as well as productive, she said, and will eventually include children in the upper grades as well.
“This is the first step in our goal of having different leaders in the community coming in very connected and tied to our school,” said Moore.
Hickey reminded the students that they, too, can help keep their families safe.
“As I told you in Safety Town, you guys are some of the best teachers, because do you think some parents forget to put their seatbelts on in the car?” he asked. “Do you think Officer Tom would ever forget? “
“Noooooooo!” the students responded.
But Hickey explained that although he should know better, there have been times he’s forgotten to buckle up.
“The good thing is that our car doesn’t drive away until everyone in it has asked, `Are you buckled up for safety?’ Sometimes we have a race to see who can buckle up the fastest.”
Hickey said he’d like to work with every interested school in the district.
Kindergarten teacher Lisa Ziegler said Hickey has a real knack for keeping the kids’ attention.
“He’s a great role model for being a leader,” she said.