One year ago today, we had our first Books & Badges reading! What a wonderful year it's been. This program is beautiful in its simplicity: police officers read to a class and every child in the class receives a copy of the book to keep. The officers have an opportunity to speak to the kids about things like gun safety or stranger danger, and kids have a chance to ask officers questions. It promotes literacy while enhancing the bond between the police and the community.
Our first book was "The Night Before Christmas," at a holiday party at East Columbus Elementary School to 100 children. Four Columbus Division of Police officers read that day--Sergeant Christopher Smith-Hughes, and Officers Tony Rogers, David Jones, and Eric Jones.
Despite Columbus City Schools moving exclusively to online education in mid-March due to the pandemic, CPD officers have still read to 2,644 children in person in the past year! Our most prolific reader is Community Liaison Officer James Poole, who has read to 847 children. He even received a trophy for this accomplishment from Starfish Board Member/CPD Deputy Chief Tim Becker.
In response to the pandemic, CPD worked with us to develop an online edition of Books & Badges in which their officers read to kids on their Facebook page. Those videos are incredibly popular and have reached over a quarter of a million people! Sgt James Fuqua, CPD's Public Information Officer, was the first person to read for our Virtual edition, and his remains the most popular episode ever. It even beat Ofc Brian Carter and K-9 Odja, who demonstrated their skills during K-9 Week.
Speaking of dogs, the first dog to ever appear on a virtual Books & Badges reading was Deputy Chief Becker’s pup Paisley, whom he rescued after a raid with his In/Tac detectives. Her sister, Piper, appeared on a later episode with their mom, Detective Julie Becker.
Officers continue to read at private schools across the city, and we were welcomed into Columbus Recreation and Parks Department centers in the summer. We had a guest author attend our reading at one of those rec centers: officers read then-12-year-old Te’Lario Watkins, Jr.’s book about how he established Tiger Mushroom Farms. It is a fun story, and the children loved meeting someone their age who is an author and entrepreneur.
On our own Books & Badges Facebook page, we've had officers from CPD, Dublin Police, the Franklin County Sheriff's Office, and Whitehall Police read. As 2021 nears, we are looking to expand the in-person Books & Badges readings to other agencies besides CPD. We've already partnered with the Franklin Township Police Department and are working with them to establish their program. We've been contacted by three additional agencies and are excited to work with them as well.
In the classroom, we’ve had officers dance with kids. Dab with them. Autograph books. Get lots of hugs. Kids frequently ask questions such as, “Have you ever shot someone?” These questions give officers an opportunity to offer some perspective, such as that which Deputy Chief Becker gives: he’s starting his 33rd year with the Division, and only three of his academy classmates have ever had to fire their weapons in the line of duty. Many students are shocked by that statistic because they think police shootings are far more common, so we’re happy to be able to open these lines of discussion.
The number one question kids ask the officers in Books & Badges: “Is it true that you like donuts?” They even asked Chief Quinlan! (Answer: Cops are like anyone else. Most of them like donuts a LOT! But some don’t.)
The funniest question we've ever heard was posed to Commander Dave Hughes: "Are there zombies in Cleveland?" (His lighting-quick answer: "I think there are. And I think they play football.")
We were able to start this program because CPD believed in us and because a group called "100 Men Who Give a Damn," gave us $10,000+ of funding. We're so grateful to both of them, and we look forward to many years of Books & Badges to come.