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Westside community tries to create bond with police
A plain-clothed police officer sat in the circle with a dozen or so children and asked “What do you think of police officers?”
“They’re kind,” the children shouted. “They help you. They protect you.”
“They wouldn’t have said that three weeks ago,” said Nicole Adams, who brought the officers and children together in three sessions designed to change the way the children look to the law.
When Adams began her self-designed Changing Perceptions program at the Post Oak Community Center just off Demorest and Clime roads, the children were on the defensive. the program was designed to finally bring the community and police together.
“A mother was arrested in a drug house and police officers found her 12-year-old daughter caring for her two younger siblings for an extended period of time,” Adams said. “The girl had the attitude of ‘why did you arrest my Mom?’”
As Detective Carl Coleman, a 21-year veteran of the Columbus Division of Police, chatted with the children and ate pizza, former officer Stacy Pettway picked up the discussion.
“Anyone have any run-ins with the police?” he asked, and a couple of boys nodded.
With a little prodding from Pettway, the boys said they had been sitting on the porch of an abandoned house and police officers stopped by to talk with them. And from their sketchy story and hesitations while telling their side of the story, it was apparent it wasn’t the friendliest of talks.
“Was that house yours?” he asked and the boys shook their heads. “It was someone’s property, then? You were trespassing. You were breaking the law by being there. Why don’t you find a new place to chill? Try chilling out at a tree.”
The children opening up and talking with the officers was one thing Adams expected of her project that needs to be completed before she graduates from Ohio University in a few weeks with a degree in social services.
“At the start, the children had a negative attitude,” she said.
Adams invited police officers and attorneys to sessions where they explained their jobs.
“Any encounter these children had with the law has been negative,” Adams said. “But getting the kids to interact and socialize with the police and attorneys, they began to see them in a positive light.”
An attorney who visited one of the sessions was a female.
“Just having her here showed the girls that they can be anything they want to be,” Adams said.
Most of the children at the third and final session were of school age, although a couple of them were pre-schoolers. Children spoke a little hesitatingly about problems, but did admit to opening a fire hydrant before the officers arrived. A uniformed officer stopped by to admonish the children and explain the rules.
“If a house or a building had been on fire and a hydrant is open, the water pressure would be reduced and the firefighters couldn’t put out the fire,” Pettway explained.
Realizing it was warm that late afternoon, there was great temptation to seek relief.
“The hydrants can be opened when the temperature goes above ninety degrees three days in a row,” he said about the city’s policy on hot summer days.
The meeting also encouraged personal growth.
“A lot of you have expressed desires to become doctors, lawyers, hairdressers,” Coleman said. “What did you do this week to pursue your goal? Did you study hard?”
Before the two guests could leave, the younger children surrounded them and gave them hugs and posed for photos. Adams stood off to one side, a big smile on her face. Besides hoping for a good grade on her project, she has another goal.
“If I can help someone every day, my living won’t be in vain,” she said.
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