DOBBINS HEIGHTS — Because of the nature of their job, law enforcement officers can become an unwelcome sight in a community — only showing up when bad things happen.
But a group of young campers wanted to “bridge the gap” and ask them in person: do police officers know how to have fun?
So, inspired by the recent Coffee with a Cop event in Hamlet, where Chief Scott Waters sat down with community members to discuss policing, about 30 Adventure Camp campers and their counselors decided to hold Cocoa with a Cop — despite it being summer — to get to know some of the officers themselves in a town hall-like setting.
The hosts prefaced the questions by saying that “we do not feel nor believe there is a problem in our county” with regard to policing but “we feel you guys do not know how to have fun.”
Waters, Capt. Marc Terry and Detective Hunter Carriker fielded questions from a packed room of campers aged four to 18 who invited them to play basketball, football and kickball, challenged them to a water gun and a water balloon fight, and invited them to play the popular online game Fortnite Battle Royale.
“We’re going to hold them to playing basketball and football,” said Brenda David, coordinator of the camp.
The officers said they didn’t know what to expect — other than the inevitable “have you ever had to shoot someone?” which wasn’t asked, to their relief — but Terry said it was clear the kids were there to get better acquainted with those tasked with protecting them.
One camper asked what she should do about bullying, an issue close to Carriker’s heart. He said first you should let a teacher or administrator know because they are trained to handle the situation. He added that cyberbullying is a crime, and one that law enforcement officers take very seriously as the internet becomes more and more central to daily life.
Waters, a former school resource officer, said he has a “zero tolerance” stance towards bullying.
Another camper asked if the police could come to their house to kill a snake, with David adding whether they could shoot one. Carriker told a story about a call from an old woman who had a (non-poisonous) black snake under her couch. Though he is “scared to death” of snakes, Carriker picked it up and it relocated it as it coiled around his arm.
Carriker said the majority of the calls they get are for resolving strange situations in the community such as a horse that found its way onto a roof — you read that correctly. He said officers play the “What if?” game where they try to imagine the craziest scene they could be called to, and are often outdone.
While many questions were light-hearted, others were more serious. Keishun Hester, 11, of Hamlet asked, “What if a thief steals your favorite thing and once you find it and take it and the man comes to your house with a gun?”
“You need to call us. Nobody can come to your house with a gun,” Waters said. “Don’t try to take the law into your own hands.”
Terry was also a school resource officer for 14 years in Richmond County and said he was able to build familiar relationships with hundreds of kids who still recognize him on the street. He said of the importance of police interacting with the youth of the community they serve: “You never know the impact you’re going to have.”
David said she hopes the campers get more opportunities to have fun with their local law enforcement officers.
“I think it will make them more likely to call them if something happens,” she said.
Reach Gavin Stone at 910-817-2674 or [email protected]