QUINCY - A program to stop children from joining gangs started in Quincy, with classes for fourth-grade and seventh-grade students.
Police Officer Julie Fuller presented information on the progress with the Gang Resistance Education and Training (GREAT) program at a recent city council meeting. The council agreed to hire an additional officer in July to replace Fuller so the city could start the program.
The program is supported by the Bureau of Justice Administration and is intended to provide skills to students, helping them to avoid delinquent behavior and using violence to solve programs, according to information on the program.
"I can see it's already building a relationship with those students," Fuller said. "They ask me about other police officers. I've had students that have come to school and want to make their reports to me because I'm their GREAT officer." Fuller said the first time a student reported a crime, she wasn't sure about what the student wanted to talk to her about. A teacher approached her, saying the student wanted to speak to her.
"Sometimes you never know what the kids are going to bring to you. It ended up his skateboard was stolen and he told his parents he wanted to make a report," she said. "They were going to take him down to the police station, and he said, 'No, no. I want to talk to Officer Fuller,' so he came in and made the report to me."
The students ask questions about the police department. Fuller expects the largest impact when the fourth graders she is teaching now reach the seventh grade program. Speaking with the students has helped a lot so far, she said.
"Some of the students that I know their siblings from contacts before I was in the school ... they actually participate a lot," Fuller said. "So it's fun to see that other side of them versus maybe what I would have thought outside the school."
Fuller said students ask about her sidearm when she wears it at school since no one else is allowed to have a gun at school.
"Then they all want to volunteer to be tased," she said. "They interact (with me) at school." Councilmember Scott Lybbert hoped the interaction would help students become more comfortable with police.
"I think once it gets going, I'll be able to incorporate more officers into the classroom," Fuller said. "We've had one visitor so far. I think it will make a big difference."
Fuller and Gus Winter, the district's security director, plan to add a family class. The six class training allows parents to learn items to help tie into the education at the school, Fuller said.
Mayor Jim Hemberry is excited to see what happens when the family component is added.
"I think two, three years down the road you're really going to reap the benefits of this program," he said. "I think one of the things we know we need to do is get out there and be more proactive in the community. This is a great way to reach that younger age group."