The excitement in the Cedar Ridge Elementary School lunchroom was palpable after officers from the Columbia Police Department dropped by for a surprise visit Friday morning.
Police Chief Geoff Jones, Deputy Chief of Police Jill Schulde and Assistant Chief of Police Brian Richenberger visited the school in response to a request from first-grade student Ashton Dixon.
Ashton, who wants to be a police officer when he grows up, asked the officers to visit in a letter his teacher, Amber Gonzalez, tweeted to the department Wednesday.
Officers ate pizza and chicken for lunch with students before taking a tour of the school led by Ashton. He showed the police his classroom, introduced them to his brother Troy and got to ride in the squad car.
“I want my mom to be a police officer. I want my whole family to be police officers,” said Ashton.
Joshua Scott, another first-grader, reacted like much of his class upon seeing the officers during recess.
“This is the first time I’ve ever seen the police (in person),” Joshua said.
The officers appreciated the opportunity to interact with the kids. As administrators, they don’t see as much of the community as some of the younger officers, Schlude said.
“We should probably do this once a month for our own personal well-being because it’s great to go and have everyone so excited and get automatic hugs from the kids,” Schlude said.
It’s good for the younger students to see the police in a positive environment first because if they come into contact with the police in a more dire situation, they might be less afraid or nervous, said Schlude. Jones agreed.
“With the news and TV shows, police are depicted certain ways, and it’s not always favorable. Not everybody knows a police officer outside of an incident, and it‘s good to have an interaction and to meet as people,” Jones said.
The department’s response to Ashton’s letter has inspired other students, who have begun writing letters to request visits from other public figures.
“It’s important for the kids to see that their writing has power,” Gonzalez said.
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