GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - A simple lunch can build a strong foundation of trust, and the Gulfport Police Department is trying to show that small talk can lead to big conversations.
“Most of the contacts we have with the public are usually not on their best day,” said Gulfport Police Deputy Chief Chris Ryle. “They call us when things are going bad.”
Light moments like this can go a long way.
“We want to take this opportunity to let the kids know that we are just normal people,” Ryle said. “We have a job to do, but we’re here to help them and here to just have lunch like they are.”
Wednesday’s luncheon at Orange Grove Elementary School was sponsored by the Beta Club. It’s one of many stops the Gulfport Police Department plans to make throughout the city. Students, officers and teachers agreed this was a great way to learn about each other on many different levels.
Student Anariah Howell liked the casual atmosphere.
“They are like always protecting us. Without police officers, it would be chaotic,” she said. “So, I think interacting with them is very good because you get to know about their job and everything and how it works.”
Joshua Bee said communication lessens the fear of officers, and, in the process, one can see their true nature.
“I think they’re good people,” he said. “They risk their lives every day for people they’ve never met before.”
It doesn’t hurt that one of those officers is TV rock star Lt. Tony Alves, who recently appeared on the iconic series “COPS.”
“It’s kind of neat when you go to these kind of events, the kids will come up to me and say, ‘Hey, I saw you on TV,’” he said. “ And all that is just bridging those relationships and bridging those gaps, and it’s an awesome opportunity to do that stuff.”
Beta Club sponsor Nakia Sibley said this is a good fit for her Beta Club students.
“I think it’s very important for our students to learn about humility and to learn that having that respect for service,” she said, “which is why I feel it’s important for these students because they are in a service organization and part of what we do is to help others and to learn that what they do is important.”