Cops ‘N Kids
“In February I received a phone call from a community member, we had just announced that the Lincoln Center was up and running,” said Tracy Singleton, Executive Director of the Lincoln Center and To Making A Better Community (TMBC). She said “I’ve thought about this idea for 20 years. I think this would be perfect for the Lincoln Center.”
The idea was the program Cops ‘N Kids. Cops ‘N Kids was started more than 20 years ago in Racine, Wis. by Julia Witherspoon, a former police officer. During an arrest, Julia found boxes of books in a warehouse that she decided to keep in her car and pass out to neighborhood children she encountered on her rounds. “Julia thought she needed to get those books out to the kids so she just threw them in her car and as she would be out on her shift and encounter kids, she would give them a book,” Tracy said. “To the point where when they saw her coming, they would wave her down and ask her for another book. She saw that it was making a difference so she started Cops ‘N Kids.”
The original Cops ‘N Kids has their own headquarters in Racine, Wisconsin and 115 locations around the country. Julia’s program has grown to include holding community events, building its own library, and throwing a community holiday party where every child walks away with a book.
The two goals for the initial program were to create positive interaction with community youth and police through relationship building and to promote literacy skills. Those same goals carry through to the Quad Cities program. That’s when Tracy enlisted the help of the Community Impact Team.
“It just so happened that about a week before this community member called me, the Community Impact Team (CIT) from the Davenport Police Department had come here and did a tour of the school,” Tracy said. “They were interested in a partnership of some kind but we didn’t know what that looked like yet.”
Tracy had a lightbulb moment and realized the Cops ‘N Kids program would be a perfect fit for the beginning of a CIT and TMBC partnership.
“You’ve got to start somewhere. If literacy is directly linked to poverty and crime, then let’s tackle that problem,” Tracy said. “When people start understanding that reading is just as important as food and shelter then we can start changing lives.”
Tracy’s next phone call was to St. Paul member and CIT lead officer, Sergeant Andrew Harris.
“A few months ago Tracy called us. She’d received a phone call from this community member that had proposed this idea but had not yet gained traction,” Sergeant Harris said. “It was one of those ideas where we said “yes” immediately. I said, “we’re doing this.” This was the easiest “yes” we could think of. It’s so important.”
The Community Impact Team consists of three officers whose job is to connect the police force to the community. Sergeant Harris is joined on his team by Officer Kevin Carver and Officer Lucas Rusk. Sergeant Harris credits Officer Carver as taking the lead on this project.
“When TMBC reached out to the CIT officers, they were looking for a way to bridge the gap after starting the new facility on the east side of town and were trying to start a partnership with the police department,” Officer Carver said. “After looking into the success in Racine, knowing the impact, it was an overwhelming emotion, the impact we could have. We said we’d make it work, whatever we can do.”
The Community Impact Team is a community-wide policing unit established in November 2020. While working to determine a name for the unit, the officers were guided by two important principles: Community and Impact.
“Community — we need the entire community to work with us to address issues. Community policing has to be a priority. Impact — there’s so many different ways we as a police officer can make an impact,” Sergeant Harris said. “The Davenport Police Department takes every opportunity to build positive, meaningful relationships with all of our citizens but especially children. That is our number one responsibility as a community, to educate and to keep our children safe. Cops ‘N Kids is just one of those initiatives to make sure our kids are being educated and that we’re helping to keep them safe.”
Starting this month, the CIT officers will carry the donated books in their cars while they are on patrol. As they encounter youth in the community, either through calls or driving through the neighborhood, they’ll hand out books. But the program stretches far beyond books in their squad cars. The team of three will take part in many local events to engage with members of the community, with their focus being on children. They were present at this year’s Juneteenth celebration at the Lincoln Center and will attend other summer events, a back-to-school block party, and school visits in the fall.
And even though the officers haven’t yet loaded their squad cars with books, they’ve already had a few very happy kids to share them with.
Seeing the impact
Tracy recalls a 16-year-old boy walking through the Lincoln Center and upon seeing an empty bookshelf he asked if he could have it. Tracy said it belonged to a tenant but she did have extras she would give him. When he picked out a bookshelf he told Tracy, “No one has ever bought me a book. I asked for a book for Christmas but I had to choose between a book and a game and I chose the game but I wish I would’ve chosen the book.” Tracy thought to herself “I’ll make sure we get your bookshelf filled up.”
“The story about the 16-year-old who came to Tracy and had never had a book, that broke my heart,” Officer Carver said. “That’s not California, that’s not New York, that’s down the street. That’s in your backyard. I feel like we take a lot of that for granted. Now I have the opportunity to give back, to help address that issue.”
Sergeant Harris said not just Davenport citizens, but the entire Quad Cities and surrounding communities are turning out to support these new efforts. The May Book Drive, in partnership with KWQC, was a huge success for the program.
“We are so blessed to work in a generous community. That’s the great thing about serving in Davenport,” Sergeant Harris said. “We couldn’t have done it without the community. Officer Carver was at the Book Drive the entire day and saw the overwhelming support, not only from Davenport but the whole Quad Cities region. We saw the license plates from Illinois and the residents from outside our community that were coming because they wanted to be part of the solution.”
Sergeant Harris and Office Carver both agree this is a step in the right direction for building positive relationships within the community for children and their families while also promoting literacy in children.
“Trust is the foundation of law enforcement and it’s earned, it’s not given,” Sergeant Harris said. “This is just one more opportunity that we can strengthen the trust with our community. With the books. The books will attract them to us. Who doesn’t want a gift? It’s a positive gift where they can be a better student because of these books.”
Ongoing donations of new or gently used books appropriate for all ages may be dropped off at the Lincoln Center located at 318 E. 7th Street, Davenport or drop off with Jessica Taylor at St. Paul.