Law enforcement can be intimidating, especially for children. We are raised to associate the police with getting in trouble and this can often lead to fearing interaction with law enforcement, especially in light of police brutality acts that have occurred over the past few years. The Bigs in Blue mentoring program is looking to change this.

Each of the 18 law enforcement officers involved in the program, called “bigs”, are paired with a “little” — a student aged 6 to 18 years old from Dane County. The pairs meet after school, on weekends or during the summer to get to know each other. The Big Brothers Big Sisters organization created the program to provide positive role models for the children involved and to close the rift between youth and law enforcement.

This kind of program is not only beneficial for the children involved, but also for the participating law enforcement officers. Jodi Nelson, an officer with the Madison Police Department, paired with Lincoln Elementary third-grader Ja’Kiya, attested to the fact that she enjoys the time she spends with Ja’Kiya, as their weekly lunches clearly make the 9-year-old happy and provide a nice break for Nelson from her normal police officer duties.

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Officer Lore Vang affirmed that the time spent interacting with children is “really refreshing compared to the other tasks with [her] job.” In the past three years, the number of officers involved in the program has tripled. Most volunteers are from MPD, with some participants from the University of Wisconsin, Edgerton and Sun Prairie Police Departments, as well as state patrol.

The program’s CEO, Sandy Morales, clarified the program’s mission “is to provide a caring adult mentor in the lives of kids that face adversity and for us, we saw that as an opportunity here just because we know there is definitely a disconnect between youth and police officers.” Morales also said a majority of students in the program express a career interest in law enforcement, so the program helps them to better understand the profession.

While this may seem like a problem-free program to most, the idea of children developing relationships with police officers is not seen as appropriate to everyone. Johnna Georgia, the program director, mentioned an instance where a parent was angered to learn their child would be interacting with a police officer personally. In that instance, the police officer spoke with the parent directly and the issue was resolved.

It seems the main takeaway of this program is that we should not be afraid of law enforcement officers. After all, the main goal of a law enforcement officer is to protect society from danger. When everyday people  — especially children — can interact and develop relationships with them, it shows there is no reason for fear.

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While it’s true there are some bad police officers out there and police brutality is an issue that demands significant focus, the reality is that most law enforcement officers are not bad people. It is important that their profession not be portrayed in a negative light.

The Bigs in Blue mentoring program is a major step in the right direction, helping to reduce fear of police officers and proving to children that law enforcement officers are just regular people. As a whole, the program helps children in the Madison area to learn more about the profession and begins to mend the complicated relationship between law enforcement and marginalized communities.

Courtney Degen ([email protected]) is a freshman majoring in political science and intending to major in journalism.