HYANNIS – A Cape Cod law enforcement agency will be the first in the state to participate in a new initiative with Big Brothers Big Sisters of America.
The Barnstable Police Department is partnering with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Cape Cod and the Islands for Bigs in Blue.
The program connects youth, or littles, with officers to build strong relationships between law enforcement and the community and families they serve.
“What Big Brothers Big Sisters is trying to do with this is to really drive that one-to-one mentoring relationship and to change kids perception about the police and viewing them as good people,” said JR Mell, the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Cape Cod and the Islands regional director.
Five BPD officers have signed up for the program and will each meet with a child at Hyannis West Elementary School for at least 45 minutes every week.
“From the kids point of view, how often is it to have a Barnstable police officer in uniform coming in to hang out with them and have lunch with them?” Mell said.
Barnstable Deputy Chief of Police Matthew Sonnabend said the program is a great way to further strengthen trust between the officers and the community.
“We’re proud that a number of our officers enthusiastically volunteered to join the Bigs in Blue initiative and chose to further give back to the community that they serve,” Sonnabend said.
Mell said the program is beneficial for everyone involved.
“The kids get this really great positive mentor in a police officer,” he said. “But the police also gain a little better understanding as to the challenges that affect kids on a daily basis that they may not know otherwise.”
New recruits that come to the department will also be able to join the program.
“We do ask for a one year commitment from all of our volunteers including the officers,” Mell said. “So it would be for a minimum of a year but most of our mentoring friendships last beyond that.”
Mentoring relationships between bigs and littles last for an average of three and ½ years on Cape Cod.
The five officers volunteering who are currently going through the interview process are all male officers, which is a good thing according to Mell.
“For us that is huge because our biggest challenge is always recruiting male mentors on the Cape,” he said.
Nationally, Big Brothers Big Sisters hopes to raise $5 million to support and fund programs for one-third of the organization’s 300 local chapters,
The Boston Police Department will soon announce a partnership joining the initiative. Bigs in Blue programs have started in Los Angeles, Philidelphia, Miami and other cities.
The program is open to all officers from police departments across the Cape and the rest of eastern Massachusetts.
Big Brothers Big Sisters of Cape Cod and the Islands serves about 300 youth from ages 7 to 17. The organization is still in need of mentor volunteers as there are 86 children in the region on a waiting list.
For more information about the program and the organization visit www.bbbscci.org.
By BRIAN MERCHANT, CapeCod.com NewsCenter