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BY DOUGLAS MCCULLOCH (@doug_mcculloch)
The Walpole Police Department hosted its first meeting of the Student Police Advisory Council on December 15.
The council, designed to help improve the Walpole Police Department’s outreach efforts to high-school aged youth, has been in the planning stage for the past few months. Last month, applications were sent out and 23 Walpole High students, ranging from freshmen to seniors, were picked to serve on the council.
The 17 Walpole High students who were able to attend the first meeting met with Walpole Police Chief John Carmichael and a number of Walpole police officers. The teens were given a tour of the police station, and got a behind-the-scenes look at what goes on at the station.
Students were also given instructions and permission slips for ride-alongs. Carmichael hopes to see every member of the council participating in the ride-along program.
For Carmichael, the first meeting was a successful beginning to a program he hopes will help reach an age group the department struggles to connect with. The department has a number of outreach programs for the elderly, such as the TRIAD program.
The department began a positive ticket program over the summer to engage with Walpole children. The positive ticket program rewards young Walpole residents caught doing good for the community with coupons for free ice cream, or more recently, free pizza thanks to a donation from the Walpole Young Women’s Club.
But the department has always struggled to find ways to reach out to Walpole’s teenage demographic, which is how the idea for the Student Police Advisory Council was formed. Carmichael hopes that each meeting of the council will allow Walpole teenagers to discuss issues that face the teenage population, and report what they learned back to their peers.
Carmichael noted that feedback from his officers has been very positive.
“Our officers loved it, and they loved being able to have the opportunity to sit down and talk with the kids in a forum,” Carmichael said.
In total, 15 Walpole Police officers stopped by to introduce themselves and talk with the council.
“We had about 15 Walpole Police officers that came. The ratio was about 1-1. [The students] got a good sense of all the faces of the department and all the things we do,” Carmichael said.
While the first meeting was just an ice-breaker and a meet-and-greet, Carmichael noted that the students on the council will speak with their peers at Walpole High and come up with an agenda for the next meeting, focusing on problems and topics that are important to them. Carmichael already has ideas for several topics to cover as well, including underage drinking, drugs, sexting and more.
But Carmichael is more interested in hearing the council’s ideas.
“I want to get feedback from them. I want to know what problems are affecting them,” Carmichael said.
Carmichael hopes that the meetings will help better connect and engage Walpole’s teenage population with the police department, building a level of trust and respect that will help both the department and Walpole’s teenage population help solve problems they both face. He also hopes that the council will help show Walpole teenagers the positive side of policing.
“Already we were able to sit around, laugh and joke. The more we have that kind of engagement, the better it is,” Carmichael noted.
The next meeting of the Student Police Advisory Council is scheduled for January. By then, Carmichael hopes to begin the ride-alongs and have a solid agenda set for topics to cover.