By J. D. Ervin, Chief of Police, and Michael Swilaski, Lieutenant, Pocomoke City, Maryland
n 1995 the City of Pocomoke began an innovative approach to community policing by initiating a number of community outreach programs aimed at youth. The programs grew from modest beginnings, with little support and financing, to become well-known community events, winning prestigious awards for being creative and innovative programs. These awards include an award of excellence for our Get Hooked on Fishing program, a National Night Out Award for being 28th in the nation for cities with populations smaller than 10,000, and the Maryland Governor's Crime Prevention Award in 2003.
Each of the programs are staffed by police officers who volunteer their time and energy to guarantee the success of these programs and by other city employees who assist in the setup and preparation beforehand as well as the teardown and cleanup after each of these events. Numerous volunteer hours and equipment are logged by concerned citizens, teachers, and members of local PTA groups and churches. The Pocomoke Chamber of Commerce, Wal-Mart, McDonald's, Sea Hawk Sporting Goods, Sysco Corporation, Hensler's Towing, and Trader's Restaurant are among many of the local supporters and contributors of these programs. The Maryland Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention provides funding for the events.
National Night Out: Pocomoke's National Night Out (NNO) is part of the national program organized by the National Association of Town Watch held each August. This involves many months of planning as well as gathering the resources necessary to equip, staff, and fund this community event. Pocomoke's NNO started in 1996 with a community walk involving only 16 candles and a short candlelight vigil. Pocomoke's NNO event for 2003 drew more than four hundred people and featured appearances by two nationally recognized recording acts, two DJs, two radio stations doing live broadcasts, local television news coverage of the event, a job fair, and an evening of food, fun, and community spirit.
Back to School Picnic: This event was started in 1995 when Chief Ervin was asked to sponsor one child by providing necessary school materials. The police department took on the project to ensure that Pocomoke's youth had the necessary supplies for their education. In 2003 the Pocomoke Police sponsored its eighth annual back-to-school picnic for more than 200 families. The focus of the all-day back-to-school picnic is to provide needy children with school supplies and clothing to make their learning environment pleasant.
Halloween Trick or Treat: On Halloween Trick or Treat Night the Pocomoke officers are out in force with a high-visibility patrol, and they are also armed with bags of candy. Officers distribute the candy to children they meet during trick-or-treating. Officers deliver Halloween safety lectures at local schools and set up and run equipment to scan children's goodie bags after their fun-filled night on the town.
Thanksgiving Party: At Thanksgiving, police select 70 underprivileged children from the Pocomoke middle and elementary schools and transport them to Trader's Restaurant for a gala Thanksgiving eve dinner.
Police-Santa Christmas Party: The Police-Santa Christmas party involves community businesses, churches, and civic organizations in providing gifts for 300 children. The holiday party is usually held at the fire department and features food, fun, and gifts.
Easter Egg Hunt and Family Picnic: This activity in a local park draws 200 children for an Easter egg hunt and an afternoon of games, food, candy, and prizes.
Get Hooked on Fishing: This fishing event is a 12-week commitment by the Pocomoke police officers and forest rangers from the Pocomoke State Forest. The officers pick up 80 children on Thursday afternoons and take them fishing at Shad Landing. The program ends in late June with the top youth fisherman taken on a cruise boat for an afternoon of deep-sea fishing. The police department provides all the fishing equipment, food, and drinks for the children.
Formula for Success
Funding, equipment, and volunteers for all of the youth programs come from the community, local businesses, churches, and civic organizations. Several grants from the Maryland Governor's Office of Crime Control and Prevention have been key in supporting the Pocomoke outreach programs.
The Pocomoke formula for the community outreach programs is a simple one: the police department provides children with the resources, the experiences, and the positive contact with mentors and officers of the Pocomoke Police Department to help them avoid a life on the street. The value for the time and cost is demonstrated in Pocomoke's drop of juvenile crime and the development of the community's future citizens and leaders. ■