VANCOUVER — Sometimes, protecting a community is less about showing force and more about making connections.
That’s the goal of the Vancouver Police Activities League (PAL), a nonprofit that partners with local law enforcement officers to promote positive relationships between police and youth.
“PAL believes that it can help reduce juvenile crime rates in the city of Vancouver by empowering our youth to make responsible life choices,” the group states on its website.
On Thu., Jan. 5, PAL paired officers from the Vancouver Police Department with two groups of third-graders at Fruit Valley Elementary School in Vancouver.
Above video: Vancouver Police Officer Tyler Chavers reads to a group of third grade students at Fruit Valley Elementary School in Vancouver on Thu., Jan. 5, as part of the Police Activities League’s literacy project. Video by Kelly Moyer
The students gathered inside a spacious third-grade classroom, sitting “criss-cross applesauce” on the carpeted floor while Vancouver officers taught them an age-appropriate safety lesson on what to do if they ever find a gun: Stop! Don’t Touch! Tell an adult!
The children giggle when Vancouver Police Officer Jim Azinger gets to the third part of the safety lesson — the “tell an adult” part — and asks them, “What’s another word for an old person?” Some shout out “grandpa” or “elderly” while another shouts, “teacher!” making the adults in the classroom laugh aloud.
After the safety lesson, the children broke into two groups. One group headed outside, to tour a police cruiser and a SWAT vehicle while another group stayed inside the classroom, where Vancouver Police Officer Tyler Chavers, a 13-year veteran of the Vancouver Police Department, made the children laugh with silly stories about criminals doing strange things — like eating maple syrup from a giant cereal bowl while driving down the road — and read them the classic Dr. Seuss book, Green Eggs and Ham.
For PAL and the officers involved in the program, forming positive relationships with students also means promoting literacy and a love of reading. The PAL literacy project pairs Vancouver Police officers and Clark County Sheriff’s Department deputies with second- and third-graders throughout Vancouver on a monthly basis. Each visit includes a safety presentation, a book reading, a tour of police vehicles and the opportunity for the children to select a free book and have an officer sign the book for them.
“These literacy events are fun for both the officers and the kids,” say PAL organizers. “Literacy is one of the key educational programs the Vancouver Police Activities League focuses on.”
Janelle Capeloto, one of the two third-grade teachers present at the Fruit Valley Elementary School PAL presentation on Thursday, said her class was looking forward to meeting the officers.
“We told them yesterday and then, right before, we talked about having calm expectations,” Capeloto said. “They were really excited.”
To learn more about the programs offered through the Vancouver PAL program, visit www.vancouverpal.org.