Third-grader Azja Lee viewed police the same way many of her classmates at Innovations International Charter School do — “scary.” That all changed Wednesday.
“We’re not here to take their mom, sister or brother to jail,” said Las Vegas police officer Marcin Zemsta of the Downtown Area Command.
He patrols that area with his partner, officer Jim Sutton. In addition to keeping an eye on the neighborhood during the morning rush of students at Oakey Boulevard and 17th Street, the officers have informally adopted the charter school.
They read to students and in their free time have collected crates of food, toiletries and toys for the school, which has a high homeless population.
“We would like to encourage the little ones to stay on the right path,” Zemsta said.
Metro’s D.A.R.E. program used to serve that purpose, educating Clark County students about bullying, drugs and crime until 2012 when police eliminated it.
Focused on reaching out to students at Innovations, Zemsta and Sutton on Wednesday brought about a dozen other officers, a pair of Harley-Davidson police motorcycles, a police dog and Tiggs and Morgan, horses of the mounted patrol, to the campus.
“Do you eat a lot of donuts?” a student asked officer Don Worth, who took questions about his motorcycle. He replied, “I like bran muffins.”
All 650 elementary students at the K-12 school had the chance to sit on a motorcycle, pet the dog, sit in the back of a cruiser, try on riot gear, meet the horses and talk to officers. Julissa Alvarez, a second-grader, liked that more than the gadgets and gear.
“I don’t want to go with my class,” she told Sutton, a man with broad shoulders and a shaved head. “I want to stay with you.”
Later, the older students participated in a mock trial with Judge William Kephart of the Las Vegas Township Justice Court.
Police normally use the day for training, but Sgt. Andrew Bates said Wednesday was a chance to try something in the absence of D.A.R.E., something which could be repeated at other Clark County schools.
“This is their police department,” said Bates while mounted officer Tim Ruiz stood in the background between a horse poking its head out a trailer window and another officer riding Tiggs.
“Tiggs is about 1,300 pounds,” said Ruiz, which received a collective “wow” from the 30 students gathered around him.
Ruiz explained how he only rides police horses. “I have not been in a police car for six years.”
Students like Azja Lee walked away Wednesday with a handful of candy and something more.
“I thought police were scary,” Azja said. “Maybe they’re not that scary.”
Contact reporter Trevon Milliard at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0279.