With police dogs, a bomb squad and SWAT gadgets and rows of patrol vehicles, the 23rd Annual Lincolnton-Lincoln County Adopt-A-Cop picnic for county second-graders proved successful this week in sparking elementary students’ interests in future public service careers, and showed them the positive side of law enforcement.
“It’s an opportunity to let the kids get to know us a little better,” Lincolnton Police Lieutenant Matt Painter said, “and lets them see the other side of law enforcement, that we’re also moms and dads.”
For North Brook Elementary School students and good friends, Tristan Simons, 7, and Will Stover, 8, both have their hearts set on enforcing the law when they get older.
“I want to be a cop so I can stop people from stealing stuff,” Stover said.
Koragan Hullette, 8, also from North Brook, was most excited about touring the patrol vehicles displayed at the picnic at Betty G. Ross Park in Lincolnton.
“I enjoyed seeing the cop cars and the flashing lights,” she said.
More than 1,500 students, teachers, parents, police officers, firefighters, first-responders and other event volunteers swarmed the city property to carry out what may be the final Adopt-A-Cop celebration.
According to Lincolnton Police Sergeant, Willie Vaughn, whose 8-year-old son, Lucas, was on-hand Wednesday with Battleground Elementary, the event may not take place next year.
“I’m sad it’s the last one,” he said. “It’s very useful, and the kids enjoy it and the cops enjoy it,” he said.
When asked about the picnic’s future, Sheriff David Carpenter, whose agency funds a large portion of the annual educational event, said plans regarding keeping or doing away with Adopt-A-Cop have yet to be determined.
“It has been discussed,” he said, “but no final decision has been made.”
Painter noted it costs between $6,000 and $7,000 to put on the picnic, not including the cost of T-shirts — typically around $10,000.
“It’ll all come down to budgeting,” Police Chief Rodney Jordan said, “but I hope it goes on forever.”
The picnic, which also incorporate music, bounce houses and other fun-filled kids’ activities into the special day, was the culmination of year-long classroom teaching at each elementary school in the county. Local law enforcement officers visited and ate lunch with second-graders, teaching them on topics related to bullying and gun safety, to name a few.
Additional displays at this year’s event included a Boger City fire truck and ladder, the Lincoln County Mobile Communications Unit, the North Carolina State Highway Patrol robotic dummy “Safe T. First,” the Bat Mobile Unit for DWI checkpoints — a vehicle sponsored by the N.C. Department of Transportation’s Governor’s Highway Safety Program — and the N.C. Department of Correction’s K-9 unit, which kept students talking about the animals long after visiting the specialized team’s demonstration area.
Patience Queen, 8, from Love Memorial Elementary School, determined she wanted to be a K-9 officer later in life.
“So I can actually have a real dog,” she said adamantly.
The unit brought six canines to the event, including at least one German Shepherd, a bloodhound and a Black Mouth Mountain Cur.
According to K-9 officer Steve Biggerstaff, the dogs have been trained to sit when in the presence of narcotics and other illegal drugs.
“Instead of scratching and tearing stuff up,” he said, “they just sit down, and we know narcotics are usually within a foot away.”
The unit attracted much attention and enthusiasm from students, taking home the day’s coveted award for “Best Display,” Painter said.
For the second consecutive year, students voted on their favorite parts of the event, with additional awards going to the Lincoln County Sheriff’s SWAT team for “Best Uniform,” Cherryville Police Department for “Best Patrol Vehicle” and the Gastonia Police Department for “Best Law Enforcement Specialty Vehicle” for one of their motorcycles.
Classes were given a ballot and allowed to cast one vote per category, Painter said.
Each winner received a special honorary plaque.