Camden, NJ—Officers from the Camden County Police Department [CCPD], along with kindergartners from Camden City School District Schools, were recognized Monday night for their commitment to reading.
The officers were joined by Camden Mayor Frank Moran and their “BookMates” at the Katz Jewish Community Center in Cherry Hill for the Jewish Community Relations Council’s [JCRC] BookMates Volunteer Appreciation Event.
Since the 2014-2015 school year, CCPD officers have been participating in the JCRC’s BookMates PACER [Police and Congress Enjoy Reading], a program that pairs police officers and kindergarten students to read together.
PACER is a partnership between the City of Camden, the Mayor’s Community Congress the Camden County Police Department Metro Division and JCRC’s BookMates.
The officers visit Camden elementary schools once a week during the school year to read for 30 minutes one-on-one with two students.
“I think that the most important thing that I like about is that the kids get to see police officers in a different capacity,” said Officer Tyrrell Bagby, who has been participating in the program since it started.
“Now we’re actually having that relationship with the kids so we can show them — if anything happens, whether its a police related matter or you just need someone to talk to — contact me and I can help you. It’s kind of like having a little brother or a little sister,” he said.
Bagby said that usually he starts off by reading to the kids and doing word association, and then about halfway through the year the students will start reading along with him.
According to BookMates Director Donna Shevrin, the officers receive training before participating in the program. Since its launch, Shevrin said 134 CCPD officers have received training from BookMates.
“They have been groundbreaking,” said Shevrin. “It’s amazing. They are dedicated, and it's a weekly commitment.” Shevrin said the CCPD was the first police department with BookMates in its 19 years.
CCPD Special Victims Unit Detective Tawand Smith said reading to the kids helps them distinguish between police officers and detectives since the detectives wear different uniforms, along with making them more comfortable around police—which is especially crucial for her job.
“We built a relationship, and that’s pretty cool. It gets them to not be afraid of us. On the child abuse aspect, I’m always going in and interviewing [kids] on stuff that’s really, really serious, versus them just seeing a connection that’s really relaxed and knowing that we’re just people,” said Smith.
Mayor Moran was the keynote speaker for the event, which also featured musicians and singers from Thomas H. Dudley Family School as the live entertainment.
“We’re very proud that Camden’s PACER program was the first time that a police department participated in BookMates,” said the mayor in his address. “The PACER program provides an incredible, impactful one-on-one reading experience for the children — not to mention children get to experience positive interaction with our police officers at a time when it is so desperately needed.”
The BookMates Interfaith Literacy Program is a social justice program of the JCRC of Southern New Jersey and the Catholic-Jewish Commission.
Founded in 1999, the mission of BookMates is to "provide a nurturing, one-to-one literacy experience for at-risk children" in grades kindergarten through third that will encourage them to" develop a love of reading and will provide them with a foundation to succeed in school and in life," according to its website.
According to Shevrin, there are over 300 adult volunteers in the program.