The Innovative Way St. Charles is Strengthening the Relationship Between the Police and the Community

By Greg Prestemon, CEO

If you’ve watched the news for the past few years, you know the relationship between police officers and the communities they serve is not always an easy one. There are a lot of reasons for that, and I won’t go into them in this article.

What I do want to talk about is the work one community in our county is doing to strengthen that relationship. The City of St. Charles just concluded its seventh annual C.O.P.S. camp, where children ages 9-14 learned about the duties of police officers, firefighters, and other first responders while doing really fun, slightly dangerous activities.

(Really fun and slightly dangerous mean the same thing when you are 9-14.)

The camp is in its seventh year, and 125 kids participated—meaning the camp sold out.

Again.

Among other activities, attendees learned to scuba dive, snorkel, build cardboard boats, rock climb, shoot each other with nerf guns, and process a crime screen. C.O.P.S. is not only an award-winning exercise in a community engaging with its citizens, it’s also an excellent example of knowing exactly what a 9-year-old customer wants:

A week of perfecting her aim.

“It was hot outside, but I told the boys to ‘woman up’ and get their nerf guns ready,” said Colette McKissen, a family friend and camp attendee. Colette is 9 years old and a fourth grader at Coverdell Elementary School in St. Charles.

Colette clearly had a good time. And she should, especially since one of the boys she told to “woman up” and prepare for battle was her older brother.

A good relationship between the community and the police department is important to me as a citizen, and as a human being. It’s a relationship that can be difficult—but it is made easier when the bond between police officers and the community they serve starts developing at a young age.

That said, I have another reason for supporting C.O.P.S. camp. When you’re an economic developer, your job is to help the businesses and entrepreneurs of your community grow and succeed. An economic developer is also charged with attracting new businesses to a community.

And entrepreneurs and businesses need a safe community to attract the talent they need to grow.

Of course, our region has communities that have struggled to create a relationship of trust between police officers and citizens, and the socioeconomics of those communities and the resources available differ from the socioeconomics in St. Charles.

In other words, every situation and community is different.

However, the secret behind C.O.P.S. camp isn’t the resources the city puts into the event.

Kids love the camp because they spend a week learning about SWAT teams and watching a police helicopter take off and land. And they are doing all that at an age where they still look up to the police and firefighters teaching them. That impression of the police officer as the cool woman who taught you what brain matter looks like or how to calm yourself down when scuba diving is something that will hopefully stick with those children as they get older.

Because one day, inevitably, those children will no longer be perfect angels. (We’re all young, dumb, and a candidate for a Minor Consumption ticket at least once in our life.) When that day arrives, the time spent at summer camp bonding with police officers could make that interaction better and safer for everyone involved.

That’s when C.O.P.S. camp will pay off in a big way—for the community and for the local economy.

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