Monday, June 23, 2003

Meet-greet aims to overcome police, community barriers

By Jeremy W. Steele
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Officer Princess Davis did a different kind of crowd control Sunday.

The west-side Cincinnati neighborhood police officer was herding young people around the grounds of the Millvale Community Center, toward piles of free food and demonstrations of police gear.

There were no disturbances to deal with, just children swimming and families milling about at the city's second Community-Police Outreach Festival of the summer.

"This has really been an eye-opener," Davis said of the event, now in its second year.

Too often, she said, children and teenagers look at police officers "like we're robots, as if we don't have families and children of our own." The outreach festivals, held throughout the city during the summer, are an attempt to change that.

The idea is a result of the Greater Cincinnati Study Circles project, which aims to bring diverse, small groups of residents together to meet, talk about and brainstorm solutions to community-police problems highlighted by the 2001 riots.

"One of the things that stood out (from the meetings) is the relationship between young people and police, and the lack either side has of understanding the other," said Cecil Thomas, executive director of the Cincinnati Human Relations Commission, which is sponsoring the Study Circle sessions.

On Sunday, children could pet police horses and ask officers about equipment on hand with a SWAT truck.

"This was a good idea," said Desirae Hawkins, who brought her 7-year-old and 1-month-old to the event. "Everybody's having fun."

More than 200 people were at the festival by early afternoon.

Future neighborhood festivals are planned for LeBlond Community Center in the East End on July 20, Bond Hill Pool on Aug. 3 and Lincoln Community Center on Sept. 13.



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