Police swing for the fences with cards
You can imagine the scene – a group of young boys gathers in a corner of the Aspen Elementary School playground, huddling close.
As they mutter to one another in low tones, the boys pass things back and forth.
An alarmed teacher walks over to see what’s going on and is presented with a handful of cards featuring the smiling faces of Aspen police officers.
The concerned expression on the teacher’s face changes to one of relief.
Joe Cortez, who is about two-thirds of the way through his first year as Aspen police chief, has come up with a novel way to get cops and kids talking to each other, and maybe even get friendly – handing out “officer cards” as a community-wide promotional campaign.
Like baseball cards, which major league teams have long used as a way to keep kids interested in the sport and the individual players, the APD this week started handing out its own cards.
Each of the 22 cards being distributed has a picture of the officer on the front, and on the back it has the officer’s name, duties, hobbies, family status and a “personal message” from each one.
“It’s to open up the lines of communication between cops and kids,” said Cortez this week.
He said the Colorado Association of Police Chiefs has been using a similar program for years, but using baseball cards instead of cards featuring cops from particular departments.
Recalling his days as chief of the Brush, Colo., department, he said the CAPC would deliver a supply of Colorado Rockies cards to his department every spring, and his cops would start handing them out to local kids.
“You could tell there was a difference” in the way kids viewed the police, he said. “When officers would drive by, kids would wave to them and come running out of nowhere to get a card. And if an officer got out [of his squad car] to go in to someplace, the kids would actually follow behind him.”
He said it became something of a safety problem for the officers, to the point where they had to teach kids not to run out in the street and not to follow them in to a home or business without getting the cop’s permission first.
“They thought the cops were cool,” he explained.
A few years ago, he said, companies such as Lee Wayne Corporation, which is supplying the APD cards at a cost of roughly $2,200, began printing up cards on order from specific departments, bearing the names and other information concerning the local officers.
He said he would have inaugurated the “officer cards” program at Brush if he could have, but explained, “We couldn’t afford it.”
At Aspen, though, the budget has a little more room for such promotional efforts, and the chief feels the department can benefit from it.
“We have a number of unmarried officers who don’t have kids in the schools,” he explained. “This is a way of getting kids to meet with the cops in a friendly environment.”
The photos, he said, were taken last Christmas by Community Safety Officer Rick Magnuson and were delivered recently. Cortez said the department probably will reissue its cards this summer, including anyone hired since the first batch was printed up.
“I think we do a pretty good job of connecting with the community,” he said of the ADP generally. “This is just an addition to that.”
He said his department has not arranged for a contest of any sort based on the card collections, but suggested it could be done in another setting.
“That’d be nice, if a class at school were to do something like that,” he said, adding that his hope is that, at the very least, young kids will start collecting the cards and perhaps trade them among one another.
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