PATERSON, NJ- When the red ribbon was officially cut to open the new 6th Ward Paterson Police substation on Friday, June 29, speaker after speaker vowed that the new location would more than a place for police officers to take a respite from their patrols. The space, which includes a large room with tables and chairs that can accommodate approximately 50, would also be accessible as a “safe haven” for students from across Paterson one law enforcement official told TAPinto Paterson.

Just days later members of the Paterson Police Department’s Community Policing Division made good on that vow when they welcomed the first class of students as part of the Anti-Violence Policing Program. 

Over the course of the summer the program will provide approximately 200 local students from schools all across Paterson with a variety of training and community service activities during the summer months. The program is open to Paterson students 12-17 years old.

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Despite the early hour, during summer break, TAPinto Paterson found the inaugural class of students upbeat as they prepared to start their second day on Tuesday. 

For 12 year old Sulamir Tyson, the choice to participate in the program was his parents’, a chance, he said, to keep him from “hanging around people on corners.” Believing it was going to be like boot camp where police officers were going to “make him do things,” he was surprised how much “fun” the first day was, already learning important lessons about bullying. 

Sitting in the first seat in the front row was Jariel Gonzalez, a student at the Young Men’s Leadership Academy. Gonzalez shared his disappointment that people often think negatively about his school, and “never see the good things that happen there” which, he continued, include good programs and people “coming to help us.” While Gonzalez considers himself a good student, “learning a lot of math and reading,” he admitted that sometime he falters when it comes to behavior because he “likes being funny.”

Saying that is common for people he knows to be “scared of police” his perception, after just one day of the program, has already begun to change because he is “getting to know them.” 

“They are treating us nice,” Gonzalez said, “they are trying to find ways to help us.”

When school starts again in September Gonzalez looks forward to telling his classmates what he experienced, and believes that when they see he’s “not scared of the police they won’t be either.”

Ruddy Rosario, 13, shared that while his mother has instilled in him otherwise, some in his family also believe that police are bad, too often “taking advantage of power.” 

“We want to change the mindsets of the students,” Lieutenant Sharon Easton responded when asked what they hoped the outcome of the program would be. “We don’t want their encounters with us to be negative, we want to add positivity” she continued.

While the program is voluntary, Easton said, many of the students were selected with the help of their schools, their teachers aware of their participation. This, they anticipate, will help to make sure the lessons that are being taught, which range from anger and stress management, to public speaking and how to tie a tie, are not forgotten once the program is over.

It was not coincidental, she noted, that those gathered for the inaugural class were from schools all across the city, “from one end of town to the other,” many of them not knowing each other until the day before. This is part of a longer range vision also where students will become comfortable in all wards and “no one will be territorial.”

We are, she said, “one Paterson.”

The community policing division will continue to maintain contact with the participants, including by making the space on Main Street available for after school for homework support, and co-hosting a teen summit with CeaseFire Paterson in October. 

With socializing time over, the day’s lesson on stress management was set to begin, and one by one the officers went to the front of the room, opening up about about not only their stress triggers, but also how they handle them, including by running, playing basketball, or going for a drive.

The openness of the discussion, with a strong focus on interaction with the students, making them feel comfortable in giving their own answers, reflected a comment made earlier by 12 year old Arturo Magan who told TAPinto Paterson that in his brief time as a program participant, when it comes to his views on police officers, and what role they play in the community,  he has already “seen more than (he) used to.”

“They are normal guys and girls,” Rosario said. “Now that I know them, I can interact with them.”

The Anti-Violence Policing Program will run in two week intervals all summer, and applications are still being accepted. To get an application parents and students can visit the South Paterson Police Substation, 930 Main Street, from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m., Monday-Friday.