Herald Tribune: Sarasota Police Use Books to Build Bridges in the Community

November 3, 2017

A girl in a brown dress with butterflies lounging on an army green colored bean bag
Girl swinging at park

SARASOTA (Kim Doleatto, Herald Tribune, Nov. 1, 2017) — When young children in the backseat see a caretaker get pulled over for a traffic citation, or depictions of law enforcement in the media, it can lead to early perceptions of police that may spook and intimidate them.

But Sarasota Police Department officers took time out this week to help change that by becoming storytellers.

“It’s a good way to combat stereotypes. We put people in cuffs but it’s not our mission. The idea is to get in front of kids early and create trust,” said Sarasota Officer Bryant Singley.

In observance of National Head Start Awareness Month in October, Singley and officer Danny Robbins read to a room of 5-year-olds at Children First, a nonprofit that provides affordable child care, services and support for low-income families.

The initiative is called “Books Building Bridges,” and is aimed at nurturing relationships between the community and local law enforcement while highlighting the value of early reading.

Beyond reading the words and showing the pictures from the book, “Crankenstein,” across 16 pairs of captive eyes, Robbins, a father of two, also took the time Monday to talk about Halloween safety tips.  From his low perch on a chair no higher than his knee, he asked,

“What do you do if you get unwrapped candy?”

Hands shot up in the air.

“Don’t eat it,” a few exclaimed.

The mere mention of Halloween spurred eager costume announcements.

“I’m going to be a mermaid!”

“I’m going to be a superhero!”

When it was time for the officers to leave, some queued up to throw their little arms around Robbins and Singley for good-bye hugs.

“Unless you do things like this, kids rarely get to see the good side. We want them to know we’re here to support and help them,” Singley said.

The “Books Building Bridges” initiative was created by the National Head Start Association as a one-time event but Melissa Conway, Children First’s marketing director, hopes to make it recurring.

“If early reading and community engagement can intersect, it’s a win win,” she said.

Check out the entire story from the Herald Tribune here!

(This story comes from SPIRE CoLab, a partnership between philanthropy and journalism meant to inspire communities to take action on relevant social issues. It is led by the Herald-Tribune and funded by The Patterson Foundation. Find more stories and information at spirecolab.com.)