Wooster Police Department involved in the community

Wooster Police Department involved in the community

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In addition to all their usual city duties, members of the Wooster Police Department are very involved in the community. Many of those activities, curtailed due to the pandemic, are back this year.

The police department is always part of Wooster’s downtown Kids Day, providing activities that give children an opportunity to get to know officers in a fun environment.

In collaboration with United Way, the WPD participates in Reading Under the Lights. Officers read to children and provide books to families.

In the fall the department partners with Wooster City Schools for Boo at Woo — another opportunity for kids to have fun and meet police officers. Also in partnership with Wooster City Schools, a student from every elementary school is chosen monthly to be the official Officer of the Month.

“When you drive through town and see those yard signs for the kids, it makes you smile,” Wooster Police Department Chief Matt Fisher said.

During the holiday season, most residents are familiar with the department’s Stuff a Cruiser program. Officers collect donations of toys — enough to stuff a cruiser or several — to be shared with children in need.

Another holiday favorite has unfortunately been on hold the past few years, first due to the pandemic and currently due to a shortage of personnel. Cash for Christmas sends Sgt. Santa out to randomly present citizens with unexpected holiday cash.

“We still have Sgt. Santa’s suit,” Fisher said. “All that’s missing are enough officers for someone to take over the duties.”

The department maintains two school resource officers at Wooster High School and Edgewood Middle School. “I work with the school to educate, mentor and guide the students,” Wooster High School resource officer April Teichmer said — officer April to the kids.

Teichmer is available during school hours to speak with students and ensure student safety.

“I’ve been lucky enough to have fun relationships with kids from all backgrounds by just showing up and interacting every day,” Teichmer said. “I have kids who will voluntarily come to me when they get agitated instead of starting a fight. I’m a friend, mother, mentor, enforcer, counselor and more all mixed together. Each kid needs something different based on their background, behavior or situation.

“I also see needs that I help bridge. For example, I try to stock the General’s Closet at school with food, hygiene items and clothing because I’ve seen some of the kids’ home lives. If I can send them home with food and laundry detergent, maybe they can come back to school healthier and with more self confidence.”

Teichmer is often asked by students to participate in morning announcement skits and to attend musicals, sporting events and fundraisers. She is invited to graduation parties, and students greet her when she works the road during school breaks.

Wooster police officers also share information regarding community services and resources.

“One of the things we do routinely,” said Scott Rotolo, assistant police chief, “is offer assistance to citizens who are without shelter and make sure they are aware of the abundance of resources in Wayne County. Sometimes a person just needs some help.”

The Citizen’s Police Academy is a program to help citizens connect with local law enforcement and better understand the work they do and the challenges they face. It involves a series of classes, hands-on experiences and presentations.

The annual Five-O Cookout will fire up the grills on Saturday, Aug. 20. The free event is an opportunity for officers and area residents to connect, socialize and share a meal. It’s open to all from noon to 3 p.m. outside Bowman Beverage, 927 E. Bowman St.

Officers recently participated in the Torch Run to raise awareness for the Special Olympics. Several members of the Wooster City Police Department and individuals from Ida Sue School ran the torch from the Safety Center to downtown Wooster. Rotolo was among those volunteering to run.

New this fall will be Badges and Bobbers, fishing at Freedlander Park on Sept. 17 from 9 a.m. to noon. The event is open to kids age 15 and under with a chaperone.

Rotolo also enjoys doing community presentations. “I spoke at Vital Connections, a county-wide program run through the Wayne County Schools Career Center,” he said.

Speaking to teachers, counselors and school staff, he discussed the type of skill sets needed to be an officer or work in other jobs in the department and the types of behaviors that can potentially disqualify an application.

He also gave a presentation to 4-H Junior Leaders. It included similar information. “Additionally,” Rotolo said, “the biggest part was about making good choices, choosing to be respectful and having the courage to tell friends when they are making poor choices.”

Some familiar initiatives are not running due to a personnel shortage. The Wooster Police Department currently has numerous openings in several departments.

“We’re looking for people who want to be involved, to be part of the community,” Fisher said. “I know it sounds cliché, but we’re looking for those who want to help people. That’s really what this job is about.”

It’s a challenge being a police officer in the best of times, and these days it can be even more challenging.

“I can’t say that the national news doesn’t affect the officers here,” Fisher said. “We’re just regular people. When you see one of us and say, ‘Good morning, how are you doing?’ it goes a long way.”

“It means a lot when folks show interest in a positive way,” Rotolo said, “like when an officer is parked and someone wants to see the cruiser or when people bring their kids over to say hello.”

If any schools, groups or organizations are interested in having Rotolo speak, email srotolo@woosteroh.com. Community members also are welcome to request a tour of the Wooster Safety Center, where Wooster City Police and Wooster City Fire are located. Call 330-287-5720 to inquire.

Updated event information is on Facebook as available at www.facebook.com/woosterpolicedepartment/.