BY STEPHENIE PRICE
As the nation continues to reel from the Uvalde, Texas mass shooting which took 21 lives, communities are asking how to prevent these tragic and traumatic incidents. These incidents are leaving families, communities and our nation fractured.
As debates continue about solutions, what we know for sure is if our community’s children feel protected and advocated for, fewer young people will feel isolated which may reduce harmful actions. The Bluffton Police Department prioritizes reaching out to children and the community through these programs.
- Cops as Coaches: A partnership with Beaufort County Parks and Recreation to provide officers as coaches for children’s sport programs. This is a win-win for both agencies. Officers can coach and mentor our community’s children, earn overtime and fill coaching vacancies so youth sport leagues are not reduced or cancelled.
- Catch it with Cops: BPD officers have sports balls and equipment in their patrol vehicles. They are encouraged to stop and talk with young people as they patrol. These balls and equipment give officers opportunities to connect with our community’s children as well as possibly inspire them to play a sport.
- Lollipop Pop Up: Bluffton officers “pop-up” at school crosswalks and pass out lollipops for arriving students to make their day a little “sweeter.” Officers speak with students, crossing guards and parents in a casual environment.
- Cook out with Cops: In response to requesting neighborhoods, groups and schools to cook out for the community, officers supply the grill, food, and drink so residents have an opportunity to get to know the officers in a friendly environment.
- Community Connections: Local businesses are visited as BPD officers patrol. This allows business owners and employees to get to know the officers who patrol their area. These visits also allow officers to hear concerns and get to know those who own and operate Bluffton businesses.
- Town of Bluffton community events: BPD officers attend Town-sponsored events such as its movie series, Jump into Summer, Slide Out of July and the Town’s inaugural Independence Day Celebration as well as traditional Bluffton events such as the Christmas Parade and Tree Lighting. These events give officers and residents a chance to build relationships.
Additionally, the BPD hired a community mental health advocate in 2021.
This mental health professional is the department’s liaison between the region’s social services organizations and law enforcement and is tasked with generating non-law enforcement solutions to cases and connecting the community with resources for families.
Many times underlying issues often lead to criminal behavior. I encourage our community to also reach out to young people who seem isolated or bullied. Encourage your children to be kind to others.
As Chief of Police, it is my privilege to be a part of the lives of our residents and to be a caretaker of our community’s future. There’s no greater duty than to prepare for the positive future of others. Every day we can do that by guiding our children towards the future with empathy, support and love.
To be involved in the community programs, email Sgt. John DeStasio, Community Action Team at email@example.com.
Stephenie Price is chief of the Bluffton Police Department