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‘Community policing on steroids’: Ohio PD builds relationships with youth in ‘Tip Our Badge’ school program

“[University Circle Police Department officers] are no longer just guests in our building. They’re part of our family,” Principal Melanie Nakonachny said


University Circle Police are putting an emphasis on community policing by “tipping their badges” to CMSD students nominated by teachers. Zymir Basim, 8, said he thinks he was this weeks recipient for being kind and helpful.

Molly Walsh/TNS

By Molly Walsh

CLEVELAND, Ohio – University Circle police are rewarding Cleveland Metropolitan School District students for good behavior, a move that seeks to build relationships between officers and the community they serve.

The “Tip Our Badge” program brings officers into Mary McLeod Bethune School once a week to meet students, make kids feel safe and build trust, Police Chief Thomas Wetzel said.

“What we’re trying to do with our current department is take community policing to another level, like community policing on steroids,” he said. “We even refer to it as an empathetic police model, which is critical. We care.”

Third-grade student Zymir Basim earned the honors Thursday morning. He said he was excited when he found out he would be a recipient last week.

Zymir said he likes going to police events. Wetzel and the 8-year-old recognized each other from an outing to Cleveland Botanical Garden with police in October, when the boy dressed as a SWAT officer for Halloween.

Zymir and his mom, Monique Starks, said they try to attend as many police events as possible. Basim said he feels safe and has fun with officers.

Basim was nominated for the award because his teachers said he was a polite, well-rounded student who looks out for his peers.

Recipients receive a gift card, a key chain and a certificate signed by Wetzel congratulating them on academic excellence and thanking them for being themselves.

The school has about 260 students from pre-kindergarten through eighth grade. They are from across Cleveland because of its specialized education program for diverse learners, such as students with autism.

Some of the biggest challenges the kids face are poverty and violence, Delarisia Bruce, the school’s assistant principal, said. She said every student receives free or reduced lunch.

“Coming to school and ensuring their safety on the way to school,” she said. “And sometimes lunch is their only meal that they receive.”

Principal Melanie Nakonachny said the police department has become woven into the school through its community policing efforts.

“Police are no longer just guests in our building. They’re part of our family,” she said. “Students understand that they can have positive relationships with police officers, and that they are another way to help ensure their safety.”

Wetzel said he would also like to start an educational program for teenagers and adults to know their rights and what to expect during an encounter with police.

“We need to heavily focus on these great kids. This is the future of our country and I feel like our future is bright. When I meet kids like Zymir and other ones that I’ve met I feel like we’re in good shape,” Wetzel said.

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