A top-ranking Suffolk County police official said she is proud of the arrests the department won’t have to make and the crimes it won’t have to solve — thanks to more than a dozen police programs aimed at keeping kids safe and out of trouble.
Deputy Police Commissioner Risco Mention-Lewis and Suffolk County education officials held a news conference Monday to discuss how police will continue to team with school districts to identify and assist at-risk students steer clear of illegal drugs, gangs and criminal activity.
What started out as a 1980s campaign to educate kids about the dangers of drugs has evolved 29 years later into 17 intervention and prevention programs serving 60 Suffolk County school districts and 10 private schools, Mention-Lewis said during a news conference at police headquarters in Yaphank.
She said young people often get involved with gangs, drugs and criminal activity because they are yearning for connections they are not getting at home.
“Connectedness is the key,” agreed Center Moriches High School Principal Ed Casswell, the past president of the Suffolk County High School Principals Association.
“The bus driver, the secretary greeting students as they walk in the building, teachers, police officers, parents. The more connections we have, the better the chances of reaching our young adults and children,” he said.
Suffolk County cops work with educators to teach kids about cyberbullying, sexting, sexual assault and the health risks posed by tobacco, alcohol, e-cigarettes, marijuana and over-the-counter drugs, Mention-Lewis said.
The department’s Ugly Truth program provides tools to parents whose children are using heroin. “Narcan, very important in terms of saving lives,” Mention-Lewis said. “If a family knows their child is involved in drug addiction, we want that family to know how to make sure they have the resources in that household, Narcan, to save a life.”
Police officers also work with students and schools to teach them how to respond to an active-shooter situation.
“Think of one of the major problems we are having in the United States right now, it is active shooters in schools. We need to prepare schools and young people to respond to that,” Mention-Lewis said.
The department outreach programs also target immigrant communities that may have distrusted law enforcement agencies in their home countries. The Vamos a Hablar program works with residents from Latin America. Police also are building bridges with Suffolk County’s Muslim community, she said.
“When you are on your knees praying, the Suffolk County Police Department has your back,” she said.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated the organization for which Ed Casswell is the past president; Casswell is the past president of the Suffolk County High School Principals Association.