ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.— Albuquerque police officers popped into a first grade class at E.G. Ross Elementary School Monday to read to students.
The new APD “Imprint” program involves officers going into classrooms over the course of a school year to read and interact with students—in turn becoming some of their biggest allies. The goal is to create a positive experience with law enforcement
“This is where the mentorship, trust and legitimacy can begin to build is here with the first graders between law enforcement and our youngest,” said APD Lt. Roger Legendre.
The program is an expansion of what was started three years ago by Officer Gerald Shelden and school staff.
“We met on a child abuse case call and he showed up and we got this bond going and I asked him, hey, I was teaching first grade, and I said ‘Hey can you come in and just talk to my kids?’” said Alvaro Ramazzini, dean of students at E.G. Ross Elementary.
Over the last three years, Officer Shelden has met nearly 300 students. He said the connections he’s made don’t just impact the children.
“He was having a hard time. I think his father had committed suicide in jail, and his mother doesn’t like him and verbally tells him that a lot,” Shelden said. “The kid told me you know what, I used to not like police at all. I was scared of police. I would see their guns and I didn’t like you but because you’re being nice to me and became my friend I like police now. That made the whole world for me there.”
APD is hoping to make a difference in elementary schools around the entire city. The program currently includes 12 schools, many are Title I or schools with high poverty, and would reach around 700 kids.
The department is recruiting officers to participate in the program. Twenty-one officers showed up for the first training session.
“It will change these kids. I mean, kids that are coming from drug addiction homes and sexual abuse homes—they’ll see that we’re actually here to help them not just take them from mom and dad,” said Officer Andrew Faulkner.
APD said this program is the step to a brighter future.
“Overall having this program, what I’ve seen in our discipline and our behaviors have calmed down with the third graders who were first graders when we started this program,” Ramazzini said.
So far, there are more officers who have signed up for the program than participating schools.