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Police connect with theater, high school

Officers interact with local groups as part of community-oriented policing approach
By: Sena Christian, The Press Tribune
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Roseville Police officer Jeremy Screeton doesn’t have a problem needling clients at Dream Theatre and making them laugh. He’s grown comfortable with the clients since he started dropping by the local performing arts center in April. And they’ve grown comfortable with him. “Where’s Toto?” Screeton asks Starr Herring, pointing down to the shiny shoes she wears. “You’re going to have to change your red shoes. I keep thinking you’re in ‘The Wizard of Oz.” Herring is actually performing a scene from “Grease.” But she plays along by clicking the heels of her feet together, like Dorothy does in the classic movie. Officer Jeremy, as Dream Theatre clients call him, is an example of community-oriented policing, an approach favored by new Police Chief Daniel Hahn. “We get more invested in the community instead of running around and writing tickets,” Screeton says. The 10-year veteran with the Roseville Police Department swings by Dream Theatre “as often as I can,” which usually ends up being once a day or every couple days. Upon his arrival, several clients walk up to shake his hand and hug him. “He’s pretty good,” says client Liz Johnson. “He helps out.” Screeton’s help extends beyond prepping for upcoming shows or serving as a practice audience for the performers. The theater company serves adults with developmental disabilities, and the officer’s presence has positively impacted many of these clients, some who previously experienced negative interactions with cops and possess a fear of uniforms, says co-owner Michelle Wheeler. But now, with Officer Jeremy around, the clients know that police are here to help, Wheeler says. Screeton has been thinking about how to use Dream Theatre as a setting for advanced officer training, to teach fellow cops how to interact with people with special needs. Over at Adelante High School, officer Eduardo Barranco is partnering with school administrators to provide drug and gang education and outreach to Spanish-speaking parents, as another example of community-oriented policing. Through the program, a few police officers, high school staff and the school’s bilingual academic tutor come together to host information nights, completely in Spanish. The first event took place in December, and four more — at Oakmont High School, Roseville Adult School, Independence High School and Adelante High School — followed. “These are some of the most caring, supportive, pro-education families,” says Adelante’s Assistant Principal Bridgette Dean. “But there’s a language barrier.” Dean, a social worker, says the goal of the program is to connect these parents with the school and police department, which will encourage parents to become more engaged with these systems and feel less disenfranchised. “I’m a strong believer in connecting the resources of a community,” Dean says. Prior to launching the program, the school questioned parents and asked what topics they wanted addressed in an information night. A top concern was drugs and gangs. During the presentations, the police officers show examples of drug and gang paraphernalia, and how to spot warning signs. After the PowerPoint, parents have a chance to ask questions about these topics, or about school issues or any other concerns. “Officer Barranco deserves extra kudos because he will stay an hour or more after the presentation to speak with parents completely in their home language,” Dean says. Next year, they hope to expand the program to include Woodcreek High School and Granite Bay High School, and introduce an information night for Russian speaking parents. “You can’t close achievement gaps and solidify communities if you’re not engaging every part of that community,” Dean says. “I want safer, stronger communities, and you need to incorporate all the stakeholders — the police, school district, parents.” Sena Christian can be reached at senac@goldcountrymedia.com.