A police officer’s uniform can intimidate a child.
“It really bothers me when you say ‘Hi’ and ‘Good morning’ to a 4- or 5-year-old and they look at you like you’re a monster,” said officer Jen Lofy.
At Tommie Barfield Elementary and the Marco Island Charter Middle School, she and Steve Crafton, deputy in the youth development relations with Collier County, interact with the students.
“We’re in the schools not because there’s trouble, but to have a positive outlook,” Lofy said.
She said they don’t want the children to think there is trouble every time they see a police officer.
She alternates her time between the two schools. During the students’ lunch break, she’s able to talk and joke with them so that the children become comfortable with having a police officer around.
Lofy said the police officers are in the school to build a positive relationship with the children and to give them more people to talk to if there’s a problem.
She says Marco Island Police Chief Roger Reinke wants to focus on bullying.
“We want to come in as law enforcement and back it up with what the county already does,” Lofy said.
Lofy wants to accomplish two goals by the end of the school year. She wants to have a bullying and stranger danger program at the elementary school. At the middle school she wants to re-enforce the bullying program and drug awareness.
Lofy also reminded parents of a few laws with season coming and traffic increasing. She said a bicycle rider or passenger younger than age 16 must wear a helmet that fits properly and is secured with a strap.
Also, a bicycle may not be used to carry more than one person unless it is designed to do so. An adult can carry a child in a backpack or sling only if the backpack or sling is securely attached to the adult.
“I’m going to be cracking down,” Lofy said.
Motorized scooters can be problematic as well. Lofy said motorized scooters cannot be driven on a bikepath, sidewalk or sidewalk area. She said they can be driven in someone’s personal driveway.
She said motorized scooters are treated like a vehicle and a person driving one on a street must have a valid driver’s license. Lofy said both the child and parent can be cited and the motorized scooter confiscated.
Lofy added that she wants parents to know about the laws related to the use of BB guns, air- or gas-operated guns. The use of such guns is prohibited by a child younger than age 16 unless supervised by an adult with the consent of the minor’s parent.
She has confiscated an air-soft gun that is built to look like a real gun. She said air-soft guns are dangerous and a lot like a BB gun except that they use plastic pellets.
Lofy said children can play with the guns as long as they are on their property — preferably out of sight of neighbors — and supervised.
Lofy said they have received calls about children riding bikes and carrying guns or being outside in yards with guns. She said children can’t carry the guns and an adult has to take the gun to a friend’s house or to different locations.
Lofy said the only way for a police officer to know that it’s not a real gun is the orange tip on the barrel. She said officers are trained to respond a certain way when a gun is reported.
“I want to educate people before a kid is looking down the barrel of a real gun from a police officer,” Lofy said.
Meanwhile, Lofy said Red Ribbon Week will be Oct. 23-29. There will be an anti-drug door-decorating contest at the middle school. Judging will be countywide.
Fifth-graders will be making posters that also will be judged countywide. Fifth-graders who participate in the Drug Abuse Resistance Education program will also receive a red bracelet.
Both contests will be judged Oct. 11.
Lofy said Crafton will drive a patrol vehicle to park at both schools on Oct. 12. The children will be able to sign their name on the vehicle after they pledge to keep their body drug-free.
She said throughout the community they are asking businesses to display red ribbons. All patrol vehicles, fire engines and ambulances will have a red ribbon.
Lofy said free drug-test kits are available at the police station and Mackle Park.
“This gives the parents the tool to test their children in the privacy of their own home,” she said.
The Law Enforcement Against Drugs program offers kits to test for different things from alcohol, marijuana and nicotine. The Noontime Rotary purchased the kits for the city of Marco Island.
On Oct. 31, Lofy said the police will be out in force. She said the Marco Island Police Foundation will be assisting the police department. They will be watching traffic and passing out goodies to the children, she said.
She said some Trick or Treat safety tips include completing the route before dark, having at least one adult accompany children at all times, approaching only houses with outside lights on and remembering common-sense traffic rules.
At the Oct. 28 Spooktacular at Mackle Park, the police officers will be passing out Halloween safety tips.
“My whole goal is to keep these kids as safe as I can,” Lofy said, “and to have the line of communication open.”