It’s back to school season for the Harrisburg Police Bureau.
Under a new partnership with the Harrisburg School District, members of the city’s community policing unit are trying to project a new image of policing and foster positive interactions with Harrisburg’s children.
The Harrisburg police have hosted six events in public schools since the start of the school year in August, according to community policing coordinator Blake Lynch, with more yet to come.
Lynch, a civilian employee, leads the community policing program with Cpl. Josh Hammer, who oversees the unit’s five officers.
They’ve distributed ice cream to more than 3,000 schoolchildren this year, thanks to an in-kind donation from Hershey Creamery. Today, the community policing unit ate lunch with students at Scott Elementary School on Derry Street and gave out ice cream for dessert.
Lynch says it’s one way the department is building positive connections with the city’s youth – a major goal of police Commissioner Thomas Carter.
“We’re doubling down on building connections in the community,” Lynch said. “We want to create more positive interactions with our youngest citizens, which we hope will translate into more connections with parents and our older generations.”
Lynch said that future school programming will have an educational component. He hopes to return to schools so officers can talk to students about gun safety, community service, bullying, drug prevention and other topics.
He would also like to allow parents to participate in school events.
The school partnership dovetails with the city’s other community policing programs, such as the block party barbecues and National Night Out events that the department held over the summer. All of the food, beverages and materials for these free events come as donations from community partners, Lynch said.
“The city hasn’t spent a single dollar on this,” he said.
Though Harrisburg schools will see more police in the coming months, the partnership with the police bureau shouldn’t be confused with a school resource officer (SRO) program, which places full-time uniformed officers in public schools. Harrisburg has not had resource officers since funding for its SRO program evaporated in 2009.