Hopkins Officers Visit Local School Playgrounds
‘Operation Recess’ builds bonds between police and students at Alice Smith and Eisenhower elementary schools.
On Wednesday, Hopkins Police Officer Mike Johnson found himself in a hot pursuit. He was alone, outnumbered and up against a particularly energetic crowd.
Johnson wasn’t chasing a criminal gang, though. It was just an enthusiastic game of tag at Eisenhower Elementary. He was at the elementary school as part of a program called Operation Recess that brings Hopkins police and elementary students together on the playground.
“They’re really excited,” Johnson said. “As soon as I parked outside and came in, they started running.”
Operation Recess was sparked by a $20,000 MetLife grant the Police Department received in September. Police Chief Mike Reynolds challenged his officers to come up with the best way to use the money to help Hopkins youth.
Under Operation Recess, officers spend recess time with students at Eisenhower Elementary every Wednesday and at Alice Smith Elementary every Thursday, starting April 11 and running through the end of the school year.
Two officers— usually off-duty, although Johnson was on-duty at the time because of scheduling needs—play organized games with the students and talk with them informally about bullying and making good decisions. Instead of wearing their uniforms, they wear Operation Recess T-shirts.
Johnson said the program gives the students a different look at police from the news or TV shows, where officers are normally seen arresting people. While the officers have visited the elementary schools before—talking about Halloween safety, for example—joining them on the playground connects them with the students in ways a presentation format can’t.
“This is something new that none of us have experienced before,” he said. “I think it’s a great way to build relationships with the community.”
Eisenhower student Lamia, 6, said she used to be nervous when she saw officers while playing outside because she worried police might arrest her for not being with her parents. But she doesn’t worry about that since she’s had a chance to meet officers during recess.
“I think it’s very fun because they’re very nice and they play tag with you,” she said.
Zack, 6, noted a key difference between officers on patrol and at school: “You can’t play with them (on the street), and you can play with them now.”