PROVIDENCE – The Rhode Island State Police, and other law enforcement agencies across the state are cooperating to provide backpacks and school supplies to disadvantaged students from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade. State Police Col. Stephen O’Donnell said this year, the fifth year the program has been in operation, they will be handing out 1,200 backpacks filled with pencils, crayons, rulers and other basic school supplies, as well as items such as tissues, paper towels, and hand sanitizer for use by the entire class. That is 450 more backpacks than were given out last year.
The goal of the program, called Kids, Cops and Classrooms, O’Donnell said, “is to relieve the burden upon parents when they experience economic problems, so they can prepare to send their kids back to school with appropriate school supplies.
“As a result of the difficult economic times facing the state,” he added, “cities and towns and families are being asked to provide more school supplies for themselves.”
Another goal, O’Donnell said, “is that by doing the right thing by the youth in our communities, police officers are leading the way, so youth know that law enforcement officers are their friends and we’re here to help them. This creates partnerships of mutual trust. This trust will create cooperation in the neighborhoods to keep them and everyone else safe.
Cumberland Police Chief John Desmarais, president of the R.I. Police Chiefs’ Association, told The Times, “Being a police chief, I have sat on a lot of panels interviewing recruits, and the question is always asked: why do youwant to become a police officer? The answers are, I want to give back to the community, I want to make a difference. I want to help. This is a wayfor law enforcement to keep up with that.
“To see children on the first day of school, they’re all anxious to get back to school,” the chief said. “It’s better for a child to have a backpack, supplies, so he doesn’t feel different from all the others. That is key. Everyone should begin the school year on an equal level, and that is what we are looking to do.”
Attorney General Peter Kilmartin, a former Pawtucket Police captain, said, “People will ask me, how do you reduce crime in the state, how do you make a better quality of life? It all starts with kids. Events like this, which we all support and law enforcement supports, is about keeping kids in school so they can get an education, so they have opportunities in the future they can avail themselves of and not commit crime. So they can see that the police help them get that education. All too often, police and prosecutors see kids as victims. We don’t want to deal with kids as victims, we want to deal with kids who are strong parts of the community.
That’s why I like the title of this: Kids, Cops and Classrooms. What does it put first? Kids.”
Law enforcement agencies have been collecting funds to buy some of the backpacks and school supplies and others were donated by corporate sponsors such as Ocean State Job Lot, Benny's Home and Auto, CVS Caremark, W.B. Mason, Samsonite, and Walgreen's.
The program is operated with the assistance of Crossroads Rhode Island, Children's Friend, Project Night Vision, the Center for Southeast Asians, and the Hispanic Ministers' Association. Parents looking to obtain backpacks foe their children should contact Crossroads Rhode Island at 521-2255, O’Donnell said.
Follow Jim Baron on Twitter @Jim_Baron