Law Enforcement Appreciation Day 2021 comes at the end of a tough week. United States Capitol Police Officer Brian D. Sicknick died on January 7 from injuries sustained protecting the Capitol, and many of his fellow officers were injured.
Closer to home, Columbus Division of Police officers from at least four precincts have been dealing with being unable to save the lives of two charming, smart, beautiful little girls who were killed by their father on the West Side last Friday. Law enforcement officers enter this profession because they want to help people, and it’s been very hard for them that they weren’t able to save Ava and Alyse. We would like to personally thank the family for inviting all the officers involved to the funeral service yesterday. That was very kind of you, and it helped them a great deal.
Since it’s been such a tough time for everyone, we would like to bring some joy to you on this Law Enforcement Appreciation Day. We were established in July 2018, and since then we’ve touched the lives of approximately 6,900 people in large and small ways thanks to our partnership with Columbus police officers. That does not count the 2,644 books that CPD officers have read and given out to elementary school kids through our Books & Badges program. In addition, over a quarter of a million people have seen CPD and other law enforcement agencies read online through our Virtual Books & Badges program.
Let’s introduce you to a few officers who helped make those numbers a reality.
Officer Ed Chung from the Hilltop has saved 59 people with Narcan. You probably know that we’ve worked with him on many Assignments, and that he’s the second officer we ever talked to about Starfish. But what you may not know is that he, along with the next officer we’ll introduce you to, told us in August 2018 that kids in the inner city really needed winter coats. When they told us that in the sweltering heat of summer, it got our attention, and we planned for a winter coat drive, which was small that first year. But our friends at AEP Ohio have partnered with us ever since, and we’ve now given 1,500 coats directly to children in need.
Starfish Assignment Board Member and South Linden Officer Pete Casuccio established Cops & Barbers with his friend and barber Rob Cayson in 2018. We met him about a week after their first event. Again, AEP Ohio partnered with us to make the 2019 and 2020 events a success. Cops & Barbers gets inner city children ready for school, giving haircuts to boys, while girls make an art project with female police officers. Everyone receives a backpack with high-quality school supplies. In 2019, we were able to help 1,100 kids at four different locations across the city. In 2020, the pandemic required that we cut back significantly, but we were thrilled to still be able to hold a safe and fun event for 100 children on the East Side.
Another Starfish Board Member, Deputy Chief Tim Becker has also made a big impact. In October 2019, our President and Founder, Nicole Banks, met him at an awards ceremony for Pete Casuccio and Rob Cayson’s contributions to the community. She contacted him a few days later about an idea she had for a program where patrol officers could go into elementary schools and read to classes, and every child in the class would receive a copy of the book. He loved the idea and so did Chief Quinlan and the rest of the deputy chiefs when he told them about it. Books & Badges was approved immediately. Chief Becker’s favorite book to read is the Shel Silverstein classic, Where the Sidewalk Ends. Our favorite poem from it is, “Sarah Cynthia Sylvia Stout Would Not Take the Garbage Out.” It’s an absolute tongue twister, but we’ve heard him expertly read it to many classes. It’s also convinced many kids to listen to their parents and take the garbage out.
Community Liaison Officer James Poole, whom we’ve worked with on many Assignments, also loved the idea of Books & Badges. He has personally read to 847 children. Remember, the first Books & Badges reading ever was on December 19, 2019, and there was a pandemic going on during 2020. He is so enthusiastic and dedicated to his community that he nonetheless managed to read to 847 children during that time, bringing joy with him.
Someone else who brings joy with him is Officer Sean Taylor, who patrols the West Side. The Wedgewood area is particularly dear to his heart, and in the summer, he asked us if we could get some bikes for the kids who live there because the ones they were using weren’t safe. He, not fully realizing how wonderful Starfish supporters are, had no idea you would come through with 75 bikes, other types of sporting equipment, and donations to make repairs to the bikes, as well as to buy soccer supplies for their team. Since that event, Officer Taylor, Officer Poole, and Officer Shawn Lutz from South Linden have been working with us to lay the groundwork for other bike drives this year. Stay tuned—once spring comes, we’ll be asking you for your bikes so we can all spread some joy.
We could go on and on. We work with so many great officers, and we’re sure you know that if you follow our page. Thank you to all law enforcement officers everywhere for what you do. We appreciate you, and we love you. To our partner agencies, Columbus Division of Police and Franklin Township Police Department, thank you for letting us do what we do. We look forward to great things in 2021.