There are a lot of people who have helped make Books & Badges a success, and Columbus Division of Police Deputy Chief Tim Becker played a key role: We told him about our idea for this project on a Friday, and he helped get it approved the next Monday. So, today's event, where he read selected poems from Where the Sidewalk Ends to third graders at Eastland Performance Academy was a special one for us. Accompanying the deputy chief was Community Liaison Officer James Poole (20 Precinct, Far East Side) and Patrol Officer Brian Myers (20 Precinct).
The kids enjoyed the poetry of Shel Silverstein. Perhaps their favorite was, "Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out." They got a big kick out of the list of gross things Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout refused to take out, and we think more than one of them might be willing to lend a hand with that onerous chore at home now. DC Becker also gave each child bookmarks to mark the page of their favorite poems.
The kids' questions were excellent. They thought DC Becker looked very young and were astonished to hear that he's been a police officer for 32 years. In fact, they insisted that he tell them exactly how old he is. (They also thought he was famous.)
They asked the DC what it was like on his first day of being a police officer (scary) and what he does all day (attends a lot of meetings). They asked Ofc Myers what he does and if he's ever tased anyone (indeed not). Finally, they decided they should ask Ofc Poole what he does, and he explained the kinds of meetings he attends and that he gathers information and takes messages back and forth to people. "So you're a mailman!" one child exclaimed.
DC Becker told the kids that Ofc Myers's job is the most important job at CPD. He said that the city would be OK without any deputy chiefs or community liaison officers, but if there weren't any patrol officers, everyone would notice, and it would be awful.
After the question and answer session, DC Becker signed the kids' copies of Where the Sidewalk Ends. We asked the kids to sign a copy of that book that we'd bought for him as well, which they were delighted to do. In a Books & Badges first, many of the kids asked our Starfish volunteers to sign their books, too, which was very sweet and fun.
We next went to a second-grade class, where Ofc Myers read Flat Stanley and the Very Big Cookie. They were very attentive and delighted to hear that they got to keep a copy of their books. At the end, they asked Ofc Myers some great questions, including the one question that came up in every class: do you really eat donuts and drink coffee? Answer: DC Becker has never had coffee (ever!), but people in general like donuts (including most of the kids in the classes), so why wouldn't cops like donuts? Plus, the fact that donut shops are often open 24 hours a day makes them convenient for officers.
Ofc Myers was asked, "Do you call the police if you can't do your math?"
"We'll try to help you, but you probably shouldn't call the police for that."
This class also treated us to some jokes, including this gem as we were heading to the next room, "Why can't Elsa hold a balloon? Because she has to let it go."
In the final classroom, Ofc Poole read the Quickest Kid in Clarksville, with our friend Nakayeh. You may remember her and her mom, Shaunea (who gave us permission to post this), from December, when Ofc Poole led an Assignment to get them a car and out of a homeless shelter and into an apartment. Nakayeh did a great job reading. Afterward, her class treated us to a song they'd just learned where they name all fifty states in alphabetical order! It was quite cool.
The kids in Nakayeh's class had some great questions for the officers. In addition to the coffee and donuts one, they asked Ofc Poole if he'd ever shot anyone. He said he'd been shot at, but he and his partner couldn't return fire because innocent people were standing nearby. The shooters barricaded themselves in a nearby structure, and SWAT was called in. They were arrested, so everything turned out fine. Ofc Poole told the kids he will be just fine if he retires without ever having to shoot anyone.
They asked him if he's ever been maced. All three officers immediately smiled because they all have. At least two of them have been accidentally maced by fellow officers as well. Ofc Poole told the kids that he thought he was dying when he got sprayed, which everyone thought was funny. He also told them his nose ran like Niagara Falls.
One of the children asked him if he'd ever saved anyone's life. Ofc Poole, who has saved the lives of a couple of people, tried to downplay it, but we insisted he answer their question since they asked. So, he told them about saving the life of a child that was drowning in a pool when he was a relatively new cop. Years later, that child came back and introduced himself to Ofc Poole. The kids thought that was a pretty nice story, and Ofc Poole told them that many officers have done these kinds of things and that they can save people's lives themselves by going and calling for help if the need ever arises.
Then one child asked, "Do you ever get tired?"
"Yes! That's why they drink coffee and eat donuts!"