GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Members of the Green Cove Springs Police Department want children to associate them with pizza and storytime, not just law and order.
“I don’t like hearing parents say to their kids, ‘Be good or he’ll arrest you,’ when they see us,” said GCPD officer James Acres. “I don’t want them to be afraid of us if they need help.”
Under the administration of new Chief of Police Derek Asdot, community outreach has been the No. 1 goal for the department. While the department is focusing more on investigations, the agency’s clearance rate has improved. Officers attribute that partly due to their involvement in the community and the amount of trust the city’s residents have in the officers under Asdot’s command.
In late June, Asdot and his staff devised a way to get officers in front of kids while promoting education at the same time. In partnership with the Green Cove Springs Library, the department is hosting a Summer Literacy Program, which involves cops reading different children’s books at 11 a.m. every Tuesday in Spring Park through the end of August.
“This is just one more way for us to get involved in the community,” said Sgt. Tammy Perry, the reader at Tuesday’s event. “We’re trying to get a mix of the people working patrol [to come and read] so the kids can see different faces and get more familiar with members of our department.”
The program could be an especially good primer for young kids, who will now see an officer stationed at their schools with the start of the next school year as local officers will be serving as school resource officers at Charles E. Bennett Elementary and Green Cove Springs Junior High.
“This lets them know that police officers aren’t mean,” Acres said. “We’re here to help them and be there if and when they need us.”
The program started with five kids in attendance but at the first Tuesday reading, about the fourth in the series, there were almost 30 kids waiting for storytime before the officers even showed up. The real fun starts after the book is finished when GCPD’s Leah Wojnar, driving the department’s infamous pink Cadillac Escalade, arrives on the scene with her car filled with Hungry Howie’s pizza.
Wojnar approached Hungry Howie’s when the Summer Literacy Program was first conceptualized about providing pizza for the series. The restaurant agreed to offer pizza at no cost for the events. Wojnar also visited the library to work with library staff to select the 10 books that would be read as a part of the program.
“Chief Asdot came up with the idea to get kids to read. The more they read, the better they’ll do,” Wojnar said. “The kids already know the pink car has the pizza,” she said.
Kids of all ages are invited to participate in future readings. Officers will arrive around 11 a.m. every Tuesday, weather permitting, at the shelter next to the playground at Spring Park. Officers have also participated in readings at the library and host other community events throughout the year. For more information on upcoming events follow the department’s Facebook page for regular updates.