(Posted March 3, 2017)
By Kristy Zurbrick, Madison Editor
“It used to be, when I walked in, all the kids would go quiet. Now, it’s more normalized for them to see us here,” said John Goubeaux, one of several London police officers who regularly visit London Middle School students during lunch periods.
Last fall, at the suggestion of guidance counselor Maureen Henry, Principal Michael Belmont began inviting community leaders to stop by the school and spend time with students. So far, Mayor Patrick Closser, Police Chief Glenn Nicol and several police officers have participated.
“The idea is to show students that adults in high profile roles are truly here for them,” Belmont said. “They learn that they can ask questions, and these people are willing to talk to them. It’s all about that humanizing piece.”
The outgrowth of this effort is what the school and police department call “Lunch with a Cop.” Officers take turns stopping by during lunch once a month for each grade level, sixth through eighth. Goubeaux has visited the school four times.
“The first time, the kids bombarded me with ques-tions. They wanted to know if I ever killed anyone, how fast the police car goes, how many people I’ve arrested. It was good to let them know what my job is really like,” said Goubeaux, who has been with the London Police Department for 14 years.
Students get a kick out of seeing a police officer eat the same lunch they eat, Belmont said, and learning that they aren’t just police officers, but also hus-bands, fathers, wives and mothers.
“This lets them see that we’re not mean guys. We’re approachable, real people,” Goubeaux said.
About seeing a police officer in the lunchroom, eighth-grader Olivia Johnson said, “At first it was weird, but then it got normal.”
Eighth-grader Allison Adams said she likes to talk to the officers to find out what’s happening around London.
Eighth-grader Kennedy Nickell said she likes knowing the officers are looking out for students and the schools.
“Especially with what’s been going on school-wise, it’s nice to know they’re protecting the schools,” she said, referring to the shooting at West Liberty-Salem High School in January and threats of violence made by a student at Jonathan Alder Junior High in February.
“Lunch with a Cop” builds a positive relationship between youths and police officers, said Michael Crace, London Middle School assistant principal.
“So, when they do need to talk with a police officer, there is a sense of trust and understanding,” he said.
Nicol said the program fits well with his department’s community policing efforts, which over the last year also have included designating a safe zone in front of the police station for custody and property exchanges, increasing walk-through and drive-through patrols around the city, and launching the MyPD phone app, a free way for the public and police department to communicate with one another. The app includes a function that allows the public to submit crime tips anonymously.