SHOUT OUTS: Ridgewood police officers continued their outreach to village youngsters today with a visit to the Benjamin Franklin School, followed by a special announcement by Chief John Ward about the department’s Michael Feeney Youth Ambassador Program.
Michael Feeney, a 10-year-old village boy who died last month of a rare form of bone cancer, helped Ward with various ideas for the program as it was being formed — and was named honorary chief, with his own badge, for his dedication and commitment to public service.
“I have asked Michael’s sister, Cassie, to assume his position as honorary chief and help continue what he helped start,” Ward told CLIFFVIEW PILOT this afternoon, after he and Officer Michael Lembo visited with youngsters at the Franklin School.
Unable to fund a resource officer because of budget constraints, Ward ( top photo ) and his officers have been dropping in regularly at village schools.
After checking first with administrators, they meet with kids during their breaks, playing checkers, chess or backgammon indoors and shooting hoops outdoors, while answering any questions that come up.
Today they were surrounded at lunchtime by 6th-, 7th- and 8th-graders.
“It’s a way to extend our presence in the schools and engage our youth in a positive way in what is a very informal setting — usually, the cafeteria,” Ward told CLIFFVIEW PILOT afterward.
“It’s a great two-way street,” the chief added. “It’s their opportunity to talk with us, ask questions, get to know our officers. At the same time, we get feedback from them and get to know their thoughts and concerns.
“It works well for us because we go when the call volume is low, but we keep our police cars parked right outside the cafeteria,” Ward said. “Then, if there’s a call, we can jump right away.
“The kids get a kick out of it.”
Several youngsters are also becoming actively involved in the department’s ambassador program, which helps “develop the leadership qualities within them,” the chief said.
“It’s more than ‘Just Say No’,” he added. “It deals with life issues and circumstances that kids must face every day. It helps them make good choices.”
The program will be resuming Feb. 12 at 3:30 on Wednesday afternoons at village police headquarters.
One of the first tasks will be producing a public safety and awareness video about the need for caution by pedestrians and drivers alike — particularly given the relatively high number of pedestrians who are struck downtown.
The safety video, like several other ideas being worked into the program, was Michael’s.
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