A pilot program by the Atlantic County Prosecutor’s Office is teaching police and special needs students about one another.
The Atlantic County Special Needs Registry School Outreach Program brought police from three different municipalities into classrooms to learn about — and help teach — students with special needs.
“Having the police officers come in was incredible because (the students) saw them as a real person,” said Brigantine special education teacher Luanne Klemm. “By the end of the five weeks they felt comfortable talking to (the police) about personal experiences they had. So, the kids absolutely loved it.”
She admits they were hesitant at first, especially since some of the students had already had officers at their homes for issues.
But, that was the purpose behind the program, according to Raymond Royster, community outreach director for the Prosecutor’s Office.
“It allows the officers to go into the school system within their jurisdictions to learn about the kids (there),” he explained.
It expands upon the Atlantic County Special Needs Registry that was started two years ago, which allows those with special needs to register in case of an emergency or interaction with law enforcement.
Royster and Lt. William Adamson of the Special Victims Unit worked together to develop the program, with both bringing a personal connection.
“We both care for a love a special needs child,” Royster said.
Brigantine, Egg Harbor City and Northfield were chosen because they represented different demographics in the county, he explained.
It didn’t take much to get the districts to answer the call.
“You three towns couldn’t have been easier to work with,” Adamson said as the group gathered a news conference heralding the program last week.
It led off Week 6, which brought the students to the officers this time. The classes visited the police department in their respective towns. Each student also got a certificate marking their graduation.
But even before the program was done, its success was already being heard in other departments.
Four or five police chiefs called asking when the program would come to their districts, Adamson said.
They expect to do five or six more schools in the spring.
The education doesn’t stop with the children and officers, Royster said.
“But parents also learn that you can trust the police to teach and protect your children if there’s an emergency as well,” he said.
“It’s been amazing for our scholars, it’s been amazing for our community, and I think it’s been amazing for the police officers as well,” said Lisa Glick, supervisor of special education for Brigantine schools.
“(The officers) are so enthusiastic about coming in and they take great pride in the lessons they are creating,” she continued. “They really enjoy working with our scholars.”
Prosecutor Will Reynolds promised more from his office, saying his office is committed to showing how much they care about those they serve and changing the perspective many have about law enforcement.
“I think a program like this is a great way for the community to learn more about people with different abilities and how you can approach them,” Glick said. “This program has been absolutely amazing.”