Trading in handcuffs for hairnets, Denver Police Department (DPD) officers served up a hearty meal – and heartfelt conversation – for hundreds of Denver Public Schools (DPS) students.
On any given school day, DPS Food & Nutrition Services crafts up thousands of meals for students across DPS. When it comes to Thanksgiving – as is the case in many households – it’s all hands on deck to put the most mouth-watering, Thanksgiving-inspired recipes to the test.
For some students, the annual Thanksgiving meal in their school is a chance to invite loved ones to their home away from home for a hearty meal and great conversation. It’s also a chance to see their second family, like DPD school resource officers (SROs).
Ahead of Thanksgiving, those SROs and their DPD colleagues served up meals across DPS as a way of supporting chefs and connecting on a deeper level with the community.
“It’s just a good opportunity,” said Lieutenant Jeff Martinez. “The chance to talk to kids in a different setting. They are asking, ‘Why is a police officer here?’ And we’re like, ‘Nothing bad, we’re just here to serve you a Thanksgiving dinner.’”
In recent years, DPD has made a concerted effort – in conjunction with the City and County of Denver and DPS Safety and Security – to make these kinds of positive connections with students, especially for those who may have previously had a negative view of police officers. SROs are on the front lines in schools to champion this effort and help foster these relationships.
“Community-based policing isn’t just engaging the community. It’s building relationships, and that’s hard to do. It might take several years,” said Sergeant Mike Vogler, who supervises SROs.
One such officer who has made an enormous impact on the Southwest Denver community is Rich Blea, who teaches Gang Resistance Education and Training (G.R.E.A.T.) every Monday at the Henry Campus. Blea joined his fellow officers during one of the Thanksgiving meals, and served mashed potatoes to students and had plenty of jokes to share with familiar faces from his weekly G.R.E.A.T. class.
“That was good cake!” Blea told a student. “Wait, you don’t like cake? You should’ve given me your piece!”
Blea expressed that this experience was especially meaningful for his colleagues who are not in schools with these students every day.
“Every officer should have a chance to work in schools. This is a great opportunity, and I truly wish I could keep it for myself,” Blea said. “To know (students) know me by my name, it’s great. I love it. It’s something I feel proud of.”