Stillwater alum's Police PALS program connects cops and kids
Stillwater Police Officer Stephen Papke finds himself in the midst of a spirited game of "cops and robbers" during recess at Rutherford Elementary, students shrieking with excitement as he chases them down.
It's a scene that takes place several times a month when Officer Papke and Officer Josh Gow visit the school as part of Police PALS (Police at Local Schools). The program is the brainchild of Officer Papke, a 2007 Stillwater Area High School graduate, who wanted to create positive relationships between police and kids.
When he shared the concept with his department, fellow officers eagerly jumped on board, ready to trade in traffic tickets for high fives. Now they're regulars at Lily Lake and Stonebridge elementaries, eating lunch with students, playing at recess and even attending school concerts.
It brings back fond memories for Officer Papke, after having attended Rutherford himself, while his mom Katie Papke is a first grade teacher there.
“I remember having DARE officers here and looking up to them,” recalled Papke. “And I thought that was a cool thing.”
The PALS program has proven to be wildly popular among students and staff.
“It’s amazing,” said Papke. “When we come here the kids are more and more excited every time.”
And it’s not just the kids who are excited. Officer Gow is looking forward to an upcoming cribbage tournament at the school.
“I’m a diehard cribbage fan and all the kids are asking me to come play,” Gow exclaimed.
The PALS program goes beyond fun and games, however. It serves as a valuable tool to break down stereotypes and build trust and understanding between young people and police officers.
"I feel important because they all want to ask me questions," Gow said. "A lot of them tell me, 'I want to be a cop.' It's just been a really good experience."
The PALS program is doing so well that they're hoping to expand it to other schools with the goal of reaching even more young people and further cementing positive relationships between the police and the community.
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