Students Give Thanks, Appreciation for First Responders, and the Military

As an officer detached to a K-9 unit, Chula Vista Police Officer Chris Walters is used to crowds of students gathering around him. They’ll want to pet police dog Ares, ask his handler all manner of questions, or just hang around. Walters can appreciate every minute.

This has been a difficult year for law enforcement, with heated debate and perhaps some soul-searching following officer-involved shootings. Officers themselves have been targeted for violence, a disturbing and grim reminder of the dangers of law enforcement. Here, in Chula Vista, there is noticeable contrast in police-community relations in comparison to other parts of the country. Schools play an important role. The bond between students in the Chula Vista Elementary School District and first responders is as strong as ever.

Walters, who happens to be African-American, was part of Law Enforcement Day held recently at Juarez-Lincoln Elementary. “It’s like most things. It starts at home, and then with teachers at school. Teachers are so important. At home, if they’re telling you that if you do something (against the law), they’ll say ‘they’re going to take you away.’ The kids are going to be scared. At school, they also teach you consequences and understanding. Do you want to respect the law or fear it? … Events like this teach the kids that these can be cool jobs. They don’t necessarily see the dangers that come with each job. But they get inspired.”

The Juarez-Lincoln event offered a variety of child-focused health and safety information, booths and displays from various agencies in San Diego, Chula Vista and the region. There was even a law enforcement helicopter landing on the school field. Students enjoyed 2016-juarez-lincoln-le-day-img_0375hands-on activities and at the same time gathered important information—and respect—for the participating agencies, said Principal Toni Faddis.

“The event is designed to introduce students to different members of our community who are involved with law enforcement or the military,” Faddis said. “It is also another opportunity for students to want to come to school. …There are lots of opportunities for students to interact with our first responders, as well as know who to go to in the event of an emergency.”

Faddis said the students’ experiences at the event are a foundation for positive police-community interactions.

“We really want students to know the difference between riding in the front of the police car and riding in the back,” Faddis said. “It’s an ideal time to make connections with the people in uniform. It might be a career that they aspire to later in life.”

It was a police officer’s visit to his daughter’s school that helped lead to Walters’ career in law enforcement.

“I played at San Diego State (basketball), and professionally abroad,” Walters said. “In my off-seasons, I used to work with at-risk youth. I have four girls, one of my daughters who was 10 at the time, said, ‘You know, Daddy, there was a police officer who came to our school today. You know, you should be a police officer. You’re strong, you’re smart, you wouldn’t abuse your power.’ I turned and wondered, ‘Who’s kid is this?’ …So I looked into it, and it was a good fit.”

Walters initially worked for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, before being picked up by CVPD. He grew up in Los Angeles where he witnessed “the good and the bad” in terms of police and community relations, he said.

Josephine Aguilar, former PTA President at Juarez-Lincoln, said it is important that students understand that law enforcement is there to help in an emergency. “The kids sometimes don’t understand how vital their roles are in protecting us,” Aguilar said. “Here, we have the Navy, Border Patrol, Fire Department, Sheriff’s Department and others explaining what they do at a kid level, so they can understand it better. An event like this, the kids are so excited. …It gives all of us a sense of positivity in spite of (current events) right now.”

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