Making a New Friend

Jayden Holman, left, chatted with Union School Resource Officer Rick Neace Wednesday during a “Coffee With a Cop” event at Hardee’s. This was the first of a monthly event that gives Union residents an opportunity to meet with police officers. Holman will be a kindergartner at Central Elementary where Neace’s office is located.

The Union School District has teamed up with the Union Police Department and Franklin County Sheriff’s Department to help encourage positive relationships between law enforcement and students.

Union Police Officer Rick Neace said the new program, “Open Doors,” is aimed at opening not only opening doors for students to start their school day, but to having positive relationships with those in uniform.

“We will have officers opening the doors for children and helping them out with their backpacks,” Neace said.

Officers also will greet students as they come in.

“Our goal is just to serve,” Neace said. “We want to do more serving than enforcing, so we’re thinking with positive contact at an early age will help.”

Neace, who is the school resource officer at Central Elementary, said Assistant Principal Rob Rogers wanted more ways that students could interact with officers. Together, they came up with Open Doors.

Sheriff Steve Pelton said he’s excited to have deputies included in the program.

“First and foremost, we’re excited about working with the Union Police Department,” Pelton said. “It’s a great organization and we have a great working relationship.

“Any time the kids can see us in a positive light and know that we care will pay off in big dividends down the road, because we do care and they’re our future citizens,” he added.

Some students have a negative perception of law enforcement either because their parents or family members have had interactions with law enforcement or because they may have seen bad images on television.

Union Police Chief Norman Brune said that all too often, officials are part of incidents that children may view as being negative.

“For instance, it we have a domestic call and we have to take a parent into custody,” he said. “So any time we have the opportunity to have positive contact with children is beneficial.”

Officers will visit Central Elementary April 4, Clark-Vitt Elementary April 11 and Beaufort Elementary April 18.

“This is to bridge the gap — it opens the door for the children and their parents to see us out there (serving),” Neace said.

Coffee With a Cop

The police department also hosts a Coffee With a Cop program each month. The program began more than two years ago with the same goal, to build relationships in the community.

Coffee With a Cop is a national initiative supported by the United States Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services.

The next event in Union is set for Wednesday, April 5, from 8:30 to 9:30 a.m. at the Union McDonald’s restaurant.

“If you can have good community relations, that will go really far if you ever do have a major incident,” Neace said.