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West Jordan Journal

Students go one on one with deputies

Jun 05, 2018 12:23PM ● By Jet Burnham

Officers learned to be patient with students, and students learned that officers are their friends. (Dani Bills/Sheriff’s Office)

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

Several police cars and motorcycles filled the parking lot of South Valley School at 8400 South Redwood Road in West Jordan on April 27. They were there for the school’s fourth annual Sheriff Week. Deputies and officers from the Salt Lake County’s Sheriff’s office spent five days with South Valley School students, who range in age from15 to 22 and have various special needs. 

Skyler Talbot, public information officer from the sheriff’s office, said the students were thrilled by the presence of the officers and their equipment. 

“It’s not a lot to come and park our vehicle here and let the students see what it is we do,” said Talbot. “Just a little bit of our day can really add a lot to these student’s lives.” 

Officers signed up for shifts to participate in the various activities planned for the week.

“We’re always looking for ways to give back and to interact and foster those positive relationships,” he said. “Deputies absolutely love it.” 

He said they don’t often get this kind of opportunity. 

“Unfortunately, the reality is law enforcement—in our day-to-day function—we don’t get to always have positive interactions with people,” said Talbot. “People don’t call the sheriff’s office when they’re having a good day. This is a time to come out, and it’s 100 percent positive.”

Students challenged the officers to a series of basketball games and then to an afternoon of bowling. (Students won both tournaments.) Officers shadowed students as they worked in the campus’ greenhouse and woodshop, where students receive vocational skills training. 

Salt Lake County Sheriff Rosie Rivera said officers look forward to this activity all year.

“It's so rewarding,” said Rivera. “Our officers and deputies get to interact with these kids and build a relationship with them. They’re more confident in law enforcement, and they feel like we’re their friend.” 

Rivera said one student told her he had heard on news that police officers aren’t nice. She believes changing the perception young people have of law enforcement is key to helping them understand officers represent safety.

Nancy Neff, a teacher at the school, said the experience affected officers’ perceptions of people with disabilities, too. 

“It's awesome that it’s two-fold,” she said. “The police officers get to know people with disabilities and how to deal with them, and it’s awesome for our students that they become familiar with the police and know that they’ll help them.”

Rivera said the opportunity for officers to get to know the students helped them become more familiar with the characteristics of people with various disabilities.

“We have to learn how to best serve that community,” she said. “It’s key for us to do our job.”

Students were thrilled when the officers allowed them to explore their patrol cars and motorcycles. They also got to meet the UPD mascot, Sgt. Lightning, who has a large, engaging horse head. 

Talbot said the level of student enthusiasm throughout the week was amazing.

“It's very rewarding to see so much excitement,” he said. “Sometimes we take for granted the things that make their day.” 

Officers taught a gun safety seminar, role-playing through possible scenarios to educate students what to do if they find a gun. In other classes, they reviewed crosswalk safety tips, reminding students to take off headphones and pay attention to traffic as they cross an intersection. 

Neff said the officers were good role models for the students, balancing between educating and just goofing around with them. 

 Rivera believes everyone involved benefitted from the relationships formed. She was touched when she saw students hugging officers. 

 “The fact that they feel that confident to come up to a police officer and give them a big hug—that just makes my whole day,” she said. 

The week of activities concluded with a party. Students watched a K-9 demonstration, climbed a rock wall, had their picture taken in front of a huge rescue truck, and shared cake and ice cream with their new friends.