Under sunny skies in the roomy parking lot of the Hempstead Department of Public Works, hundreds of Hempstead schoolchildren clambered in and out of official vehicles and besieged smiling police officers with questions.
It was Thursday, May 11, the final day of the Spring 2023 Adopt-a-Cop program.
Lieutenant Stephanie Jones, a 16-year veteran of the Hempstead Police Department and head of the Hempstead Juvenile Aid Bureau, coordinated the program with Detective Russell Harris.
“Each Hempstead elementary school has three or more fourth grade classes,” Jones said. “Each class adopts one cop. Monthly between January and May, the police officers go visit the kids, help them with their classwork, take them little snacks like donuts, or little gifts like inspirational bracelets. We encourage them to ask us questions as well.”
The May 11 event was the program’s closing ceremony. As the children scrambled off the buses, grabbing blue HPD t-shirts from boxes at the gate, Hempstead Police Chief Richard Holland spoke into a microphone.
“We always like to take the opportunity to engage our community,” said Holland, “but it’s especially helpful when we can engage our fourth-graders at such an early age and develop a wonderful relationship. We want to develop this relationship all the way to the time when you become a Hempstead Police officer!”
“You guys could be the future of our law enforcement,” said Village Trustee Kevin Boone, “in the village or the county, or be a politician in the village itself.”
“Let me have the Fire Department and police officers just wave your hands, give a wave to the young people,” said Deputy Chief Derek Warner, former head of the Juvenile Aid Bureau. “If you need anything let us know. Enjoy yourselves!”
The children did indeed enjoy themselves. They wriggled into the Hummer, poked their heads out its sunroof, peered at the computerized equipment on its dashboard, and tweaked the steering wheel.
They also got guided tours into the roomy command bus, saw its refrigerator and microwave and seating, and heard officers explain why many hours are spent in the bus.
They examined the police motorcycles and ran joyfully to see a Nassau County Police Department Helicopter land in the adjoining field. They clustered around the NCPD officer that came out to greet them, peppering him with questions, as they did the mounted NCPD officers at the other side of the parking lot, and the canine unit officer who brought a brilliant, friendly dog.
The Hempstead Fire Department participated as well.
Firefighter José Ramirez explained: “What we’re doing is we’re showing the kids the equipment that we use to get them familiarized in case there is a fire, so they know who it is that’s coming in to save them,” he said. “We also have a program for students ages 12-16, so once they become old enough to join the actual fire department, they already have that education.”
Asked what they had learned from the Adopt-a-Cop program, Rhodes Academy fourth-grader Jay-Lin Lamadieu said, “We’re learning how the police are saving Hempstead or protecting Hempstead.”
“And it teaches us when we need them or when we’re good by ourselves,” said her classmate, Amari Khalik.
“They’re having a good time learning,” said Jackson Main teacher Robin Garrett. “Things we’ve learned in the classroom, now they get to see it in real life. The police officers motivate the kids, which is what a lot of youth need today.”
School board member and former HPD office Lamont Johnson surveyed the children, who were dancing to music from the mobile stage, and said, “The best relationships start at a very early age where the children are unjudgmental. … It also helps the police officers know that the children appreciate what they’re doing. A thank-you from a child means so much to a police officer.”