SOUTH BEND - To proactively combat violence in schools, the South Bend Police Department implemented a new program this week to show its presence in 26 city elementary schools.
The program is simple: When officers have time on their beats, they will stop by the school in their patrol area and do a walk-through, Cpl. Terry Santa said Tuesday.
"There is no set time - whenever we have time we just stop in," he said. "If anyone's watching the school, they will see we are around, but there is no pattern to when we stop."
Capt. Terry Young said schools the officers will visit are for students in kindergarten through fourth grade, or in the case of parochial schools, kindergarten through eighth.
"These are schools that do not already have a police officer assigned to them," he said.
When the officers make their rounds at the schools, they stop in the office, walk around the hallways and are just a presence in the building.
"This is a cooperative effort, a partnership between the police and the schools," Young said. "It is a proactive way to increase our presence and visibility."
Lt. Eric Crittendon said the program makes the teachers more comfortable and piques the students' curiosity.
"Kids are curious, and it's fun for the officers. ... You see the smile you bring to the kids' faces," he said. "They ask all kinds of questions."
Crittendon said the program was discussed with former Interim Police Chief Chuck Hurley and others before the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December. But after events of school violence increased recently, it was implemented.
"By being proactive instead of reactive, spending time with administrators, the parents, the teachers ... we can build a rapport and can get out into our communities and be a partner in our communities," he said.
Crittendon said police presence in school is beneficial for children and can help create lasting relationships.
"We want to build a relationship and have kids ask, 'Can you attend my graduation? Can you attend my band performance?'" he said. "Kids are impressionable, and they have no set image of the police yet."
Part of the inspiration for the school walk-through program came from Capt. Darryl Boykins. Over the summer he started the program "Walk With a Cop" in which police officers got out and walked their beats as a way to be more present and visible in the community.
"The kids get to see the cops every day (in school), and we are out there building that rapport," Boykins said.
Some officers already stopped at schools when they had the time, Boykins said, but now the program is a part of all the officers' beats.
"This is a really positive way to help ... the parents, the teachers," he said. "We want to do something. I don't wait for things, I move forward. ... This (program) is what I want."