IM this article to a friend!

May 20, 2004

Deaf children mingle with peace officers

From: Press-Enterprise - Riverside,CA,USA - May 20, 2004

RIVERSIDE: The Picnic with Police aims to foster trust with non-hearing or hard-of-hearing youth.

By JACQUIE PAUL / The Press-Enterprise

RIVERSIDE - Five-year-old Jarita Bustamante smiled as she swatted a broom at a brightly colored ball and ran toward other members of her relay race team.

After swinging and missing a few times, Jarita used her foot to give the ball a good kick toward a waiting child.

"Good girl," yelled a police officer helping with the race, one of many games set up at the California School for the Deaf, Riverside on Wednesday.

The games were part of the second annual Picnic With Police. The event - created by the Crime Free Manager's Association - is meant as a fun way for deaf and hard-of-hearing children to interact with officers. Police and educators hope children who see officers as people will be less fearful of them.

"In the past, there's always been this fear when dealing with the deaf community," said Riverside police Officer John Start, who coordinates the Crime-Free Multi-Unit Housing Program. "When they see the police officers as human beings, it reduces that fear for the future so they know we're here to actually help."

Officers also need to learn about the deaf culture so they can better serve them, Start said. If a deaf or hard-of-hearing person puts their hand on an officer's arm, for example, they do not mean to harm them.

"Officers need to understand that these kids are touching them because they need help. They're communicating," Start said.

The Riverside Police Department, Riverside Fire Department, California Highway Patrol, U.S. Forest Service, the federal Drug Enforcement Agency, Riverside Humane Society and Riverside Park and Recreation participated in the event.

Numerous businesses, including Target and Elite Towing, also helped with the picnic. Target and the CHP donated child car seats for the Early Childhood Education department.

Target also gave the school a barbecue for the school's Hungry Cubs catering class. Volunteers from Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut served as sign language interpreters.

Youngsters watched a police helicopter land, then got to walk around to various booths. They checked out police motorcycles and grabbed up souvenirs. The Riverside Police Officers Association provided T-shirts for students and staff to commemorate the occasion. The shirts included the American Sign Language hand sign for "I Love You" on the sleeve.

Participants also enjoyed a barbecue lunch, followed by a dessert of "cop" cakes - cupcakes bearing the shields of various agencies involved.

Through a sign language interpreter, Jarita said her favorite part of the visit was "the helicopter and the dog," referring to a highway patrol canine. "The dog was catching the bad guy."

CHP Officer Ben Regules aka "The Bad Guy" chimed in to say that he was "really a good guy."

Regules, and other officers said they enjoyed spending time with youngsters at the school.

"I love the kids," Start said. "They are so great."

Reach Jacquie Paul at (909) 368-9472 or

© 2004 Belo Interactive Inc.