Ridgefield police officers talk safety with daycare students

Officers from the Ridgefield Police Department are connecting with children at an early age to help them understand different modes of safety.

A couple of officers addressed daycare students at the Jesse Lee Day School on March 18 to discuss what a police officer looks like, street safety and how to use 911.

The police department usually extends safety talks and a tour of headquarters to area schools and organizations but has limited those offerings this year. The department also sends officers to any local spots that request their talks.

Officers Anthony McMahon and Luis Caba recalled being met by “eager and curious” children when they arrived at Jesse Lee, and were “immediately swarmed,” by the group of excited youngsters, McMahon said.

Caba likes to start the talks by pointing out details on his uniform. He showcases his badge and explains how to visually identify a police officer, then discusses what an officer’s role is in the community and how to contact one for assistance.

Kathy Carroll, director of the Jesse Lee Day School, said it’s important for her students to become familiar with officers and realize it’s “not just things that they might see on television,” but rather to know police “help protect us.”

“A police officer becomes someone that you can talk to, that you shouldn’t be afraid of,” she added.

Caba said making officers approachable is key to helping children learn what a police officer does. Sometimes, you might even see Caba riding a preschool bike alongside a student. He said being a little silly and meeting them at their level can be comforting to them.

After breaking the ice, officers segway into more serious subjects such as reasons to call 911 and stranger danger. They explain that children shouldn’t talk to strangers or go anywhere with them, even if offered candy or the like.

The officers also review when it is appropriate to call 911 or seek out an officer. The students learned they should only call 911 in the event of an emergency, like when they are lost, suspect a fire or when someone is hurt.

Caba emphasized that 911 should not be taken for granted. “You can’t call to tell me . . . what your favorite ice cream flavor is,” he explained, but you should call 911 if your parents aren’t feeling well.

When the students started asking questions, the conversation veered off into more.

“You almost have to hold them off with the amount of questions that they may have,” Captain Shawn Platt said. “It’s quite the gamut, but a lot of times it’s ‘have you arrested people, are you married and do you have children?’”

One question that often comes up is, “did you ever fire your weapon?” Platt added.

McMahon takes a serious approach to discussing guns. “I like to explain to them very clearly that our firearms are not toys,” he said. “I try to make them understand it’s an important tool [to be used] for self defense only. I hope that in the entirety of my career, I never have to use it.”

Platt said they’re also sure to tell children that they should never touch a firearm if it is in their home, but rather tell an adult they have seen it so they can handle it.

Although safety talks tend to get personal, Platt said they are an important tool in making listeners understand that while officers are authority figures, they are also human beings who have the ability to empathize.