Herald Mail | Story by Mike Lewis | Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer
With a book in hand and an audience of youngsters on the floor around his chair, Hagerstown Police Chief Victor Brito was prepared Tuesday to read to students in Ashley Hobbs’ first-grade class at Jonathan Hager Elementary School in Hagerstown.
But before he could start “Montana the Police Horse,” he kept a smile while answering the students’ many questions about his job, local crimes and police work.
“This is the best part of my day,” Brito told the students.
Officers from the Hagerstown Police Department and the Washington County Sheriff’s Office were at the school first thing in the morning. They were part of “Cookies with Cops,” the brainchild of Lisa Teach of Re-Max real estate in Hagerstown.
Teach said the event grew out of a commitment to community service and a national outreach program called “Homes for Heroes.” Through that program, Teach said she and her agents can return “a large percentage of our commission back to firefighters, teachers, police officers, health care professionals, peace officers and, of course, our military.”
On Tuesday, it meant working with local police officers and educators to get the books, the cookies and the time for the meetings with Hager’s kindergarten and first-grade students.
“We’re excited to have them here because a lot of the students have been talking about things that they read in the newspaper about the police, and things that are happening around the United States, and we wanted to make sure we build relationships with the police, that they understand that the police are their friends, that they’re here to help,” Hager Elementary Principal Kathy Stiles said.
“So I think they’re really excited. There’s a lot of students who want to be police officers when they get older, so we’re excited to have them here today,” she said.
Law-enforcement officers shared that view.
Deputy 1st Class Carly Hose, spokeswoman for the sheriffs office, said police officers take advantage of “any time we have the chance to interact with any members of or community in a positive way, a way that we’re there for a fun purpose. We, of course, enjoy it. We’re parents, too, and being able to get together with a bunch of kids and read to them is definitely beneficial all around in that aspect. But it also is a chance to show children that we are human. We’re people. We’re not scary. We’re there to help them. And it gives us a chance to build those bridges.”
Brito said he appreciated the opportunity “to collaborate and talk to young people and get them to know the police and trust the police and build that relationship from a very young age. It’s wonderful.”
Teach said Tuesday’s meetings could be just the beginning of a larger effort.
“We’re hoping to make our way to every elementary school in Washington County,” she said.