OPM: Just Start: Spotlight: Torrington Office of Policy and Management OPM: Just Start: Spotlight: Torrington

Disproportionate
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Spotlight: Torrington

Spotlight

Helping police see the world
through a kid’s eyes

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Torrington cops and kids
on a mission

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Police and youth on a mission

There are giggles, and even a few squeals, as the ranger brings out Corny, an elegant mahogany-colored corn snake who lives at the White Memorial Foundation in Litchfield. The kids are skittish at first, but the staff assures them that Corny is highly affectionate. Kailyn, an eighth grader, rushes forward when it’s her turn to drape Corny around her like a necklace. Her friends converge to capture the moment on their cell phones. Kailyn joined a busload of Torrington youth to spend the day at this nature preserve with Torrington police officers. She frequently goes to “Police and Youth on a Mission” activities.

“In Torrington, there’s not much to do, and it keeps us out of trouble,” she explains. Today, she’s learning that snakes aren’t the fearsome creatures of legends and adventure movies. “If you get bit by a snake in Connecticut, it’s your own fault,” Ranger Dave Rosgen tells them, explaining that the snakes who slither through the Nutmeg State are not aggressive unless threatened.

Kailyn is also learning something about another group that sometimes gets a bad rap: police officers. “Everybody says they’re, like mean and stuff. But they’re doing their jobs,” she says.

The outing on this crisp October day is organized by the police department and Family Strides, a local non-profit. Like the other police/youth activities organized throughout the year, it includes both high achieving and at-risk youth. The group also does a river clean up, attends a minor-league baseball game and enjoys many other activities. Many of the same kids end up participating in the Police Athletic League as well.

“We’ve created a real good relationship,” says Officer Greg Wityak, and that changes the interactions between police and youth in the community. “I always approach them with respect. Hey, how are you? Good to see you.” These middle and high school students, in turn, are much more likely to offer information that aids in investigations. “It’s definitely paid dividends for myself,” says Wityak.

He’s particularly impressed that even when he spots one of these kids in a group of their young peers, he still gets an enthusiastic greeting. “They’ll say to their friends, ‘No, no. He’s cool.’”

As a high school resource officer, Nattie Farfan is surrounded by kids all day, every day. But the experience of crunching through the fall leaves with them here is something different. “It’s good to interact with them outside school,” she explains.

Part of the bonding here happens as the result of an eeew factor. As Ranger Rosgen passes around a turkey claw, snakeskin and beaver tail, the kids are simultaneously grossed out and fascinated. A few minutes into the program, they’re sharing laughs with the police over the zoological curiosities they’re holding. By the time they get to hold live turtles, they’re literally on the edges of their seats eager for a chance. When the afternoon is over, they’ll know a lot more about the wildlife in their hometown. More importantly, the kids and cops will also go home, knowing each other a bit better.

“The more time I put into a kid now,” says Wityak, “the less time we have to put into an adult later.”

Side By Side: Police and Youth program





Content Last Modified on 11/2/2016 3:17:24 PM