Hundreds of eager second graders bounced from one educational booth to another at Wednesday’s 22nd Annual Adopt-A-Cop picnic at Betty Ross Park in Lincolnton, learning about safety topics from police, firefighters and additional first-responders throughout the region.
During the school year, local law enforcement officers visit the county’s second-grade classrooms to eat lunch with students, and in past years, instruct them on necessary protective measures.
Due to lack of manpower and time, officers have been unable to continue their monthly school visits in recent years, and so use the yearly picnic to educate students on all the Adopt-A-Cop program’s vital topics, handing out booklets and other relavent information for teachers to go over with students in the weeks following the event.
More than 20 law enforcement agencies were on-hand at this year’s picnic, showcasing their various uniforms, patrol vehicles and weapons.
Interactive displays were a significant focus of this year’s event as troopers with the North Carolina State Highway Patrol engaged students with their robotic dummy named “Safe T. First,” teaching traffic safety, booster seat laws and the importance of obeying speed limit signs.
Students also enjoyed the North Carolina Department of Public Safety’s K-9 unit, which showcased all nine of the agency’s canines. Officers talked about what each breed is used for, including sniffing out drugs or tracking down a suspect or missing person. They also emphasized how not all dogs are friendly.
“You can’t just run up and pet every dog,” Officer Chris Bradley told students. “It’s always good to ask (beforehand).”
Two of the dogs included a 10-week-old Bloodhound named Kodiak, and Tosca, a four-year-old Belgian Malinois from Holland.
Students were most enthralled with City of Gastonia’s bomb squad robots, which officers said they use to take X-rays and other photos of potentially-threatening locations and items up to a mile away. Students even voted the booth as the event’s “Best Display,” among other awards handed out at the picnic.
While some children danced to popular pop tunes such as Psy’s “Gangnam Style” and the Village People’s classic hit “YMCA,” others jumped inside bounce houses, practiced martial arts moves and even toured a fire truck and police vehicles.
Teacher Deanna Helms, of Union Elementary School in Vale, said the Adopt-A-Cop event proved positive for her class because it taught students about the various kinds of uniforms officers wear, allowing children to better identify different types of law enforcement agencies.
Teacher Kris Poole, with Catawba Springs Elementary School in Denver, was excited to see first-responders interacting with her students, who look forward to the event all year.
“It’s great to have leaders out here in the community to see what they’re doing,” she said.
Police and firefighters support the event because it gives them an opportunity to be around children in a positive environment and ultimately reduce negative stereotypes.
“It teaches them first responders are their friends,” Lincolnton firefighter Jim Rudisill said.
Lincolnton Police Chief Rodney Jordan noted how the picnic focuses on building “positive relationships with children at an early age.”
“The children need to know that we are here to protect and assist them not just during a crisis but anytime they just need a friend or someone to confide in,” he said. “We want to be positive role models so that the children in our community can see that with all the bad going on around them in the world that there are still many people who care and want things to change for the better.”
Jordan also said that some officers find it “therapeutic” to attend the event and meet students. He noted it’s a refreshing break from the more cynical side of law enforcement.
Students were quite vocal about their favorite experiences from Wednesday’s outdoor activities, and several children found it difficult to name just one part of the picnic they liked.
“This is the best place that you can go,” Dreama Avery, 8, of Rock Springs Elementary School in Denver, said, “because you get to see all the people who help people.”
In addition to the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office and Lincolnton Police Department, others agencies at the picnic stemmed from Shelby, Newton, Maiden, Forest City, Cherryville, Stanley and Union County, among others.