On Thursday, the South Miami Police Department officially kicked their second annual “Cops and Students Talking Program” or C.A.S.T. The program is designed to build a stronger bond and understanding between the city’s youth and the police. In developing that bond, kids can talk with police officers about anything that bothers them including bullying at their school.
“Because most of the kids in my school get bullied because of either how they walk, how they talk or how they dress. I don’t really care what they look like as long as they are nice,” said South Miami middle school student Laniya Leon.
Some of kids in the program say they are interested in a possible law enforcement career.
“I want to learn about the K9 unit because I love dogs and I want to be a junior policeman,” said Joshua Washington, who also attends South Miami middle school.
The program also gives the kids an opportunity to meet members of specialized units, such as community police, traffic, criminal investigations, SWAT and, yes, K9. City commissioner Josh Liebman said there’s a much bigger benefit for the program.
“It allows us to form relationships with the residents and police and it’s important to build relationships early on, especially with what’s been going on in the media, around the country. We want to take a proactive approach,” said Liebman.
South Miami’s police Chief Rene Landa said it seems to be working.
“When we go back to the community now and visit different schools, they run up to us and call us by our first name. They say I was in the program with you and that’s the relationship they want. That’s what we want, to open up,” said Landa. “People can be approached. They want to come up to a police officer and talk to them openly.”
Landa added that teaching the kids that at an early age, will hopefully help them to feel that same openness in the future when they are adults and keep the lines of communication open as well.
The six week program, which is held at the Gibson Bethel Community Center, will wrap on August 14th.