'The policeman is my friend'

Zoe Greszler • Jun 29, 2019 at 1:00 PM

Safety Town wrapped up its 53rd year Thursday — a feat that shows the the importance the community places on its youth’s security and well being. 

Norwalk Police Detect Sgt. Dave Daniels heads up the program geared for children entering kindergarten. Among other things, the four-day class teaches the children how to cross the street and ride their bike safely, how to refuse drugs and what to do if they find a gun. 

“It shows good community control and it shows the community that we’re concerned with the safety of our children and our whole community,” Daniels said of why he feels it’s an important program. “It’s getting our kids ready for kindergarten. That’s what this program is basically for — teaching them traffic safety, sidewalk safety, stranger danger, the bus safety that we do. They’re really learning valuable assets here.”

One of the most important lessons children learn is to view law enforcement officers as their friends.

In today’s world, Daniels said, many children see the police when they’re responding to a negative situation — whether it’s on the streets or in their own family situation. This can cast a bad light on a good and life-saving resource the children might need.

Daniels said it’s important for the young ones to realize that police are there to help, not hurt. 

“It lets them know that if they have trouble, they can always go to a policeman for help,” he said.

“If they’re out in the community, I always tell them you can always go and give a high five, fist bump or a handshake to a police officer — just to know that we’re there for them. We’re there to help them. We are their friends. That’s why we do programs like this and the D.A.R.E. program. It lets kids know that we’re there to help you and to be there for your safety.”

After learning to ride a Big Wheel bike safely, one of the students in Wednesday’s class told Daniels the children “love Safety Town.”

“That makes me happy when you guys say you love Safety Town,” he responded.

Then four of the students couldn’t help but run up and give Daniels a hug. 

“He’s fun. The policeman is my friend,” said 6-year-old CJ Illuzzi, adding that Daniels was his friend. The son of Tiffany Meade said he’s learned a lot from the detective, including: “Don’t talk to strangers ... because they will hurt you and I learned about don’t walk on the street when cars are coming because they will run over you.”

Cindy Shephard, 5, was one of the young ones who rushed up to give Daniels a hug. The daughter of Josh Shephard and Carrie Close expressed similar feelings as Illuzzi.

“I learned policemen are my friends. I like him (Daniels),” she said. “He has a police officer truck and I went to his work. I saw some police officers there.”

She said her favorite part of the class was getting the opportunity to ride a real school bus.

Safety Town is sponsored by the Norwalk Rotary Club and run by the Norwalk Police Department.

The fact the program has continued to operate for more than a half century is a testament to how much Norwalk values safety, Daniels said, adding that Safety Town has received countless donations and grants. Daniels said he’s proud that Safety Town has helped soon-to-be kindergartners consistently without missing a year. 

“That’s great and I’m fortunate enough to be just the fourth officer for it since then,” he said.

Haleigh Skinner, 17, has been helping as an instructor with Safety Town for the past eight years.

Skinner said she’s seen how the children have learned both life-saving and practical skills from crossing the road safely to learning to leave Mom and Dad. She added that she’s benefited from the program as well, forming relationships with the children and other instructors.

“It’s also very useful,” the Norwalk High School senior said. “It teaches them things like crossing the road (safely) and things like that so a kid doesn’t just run out in front of a car, or it teaches them not to just go up to a stranger. They learn all of those things here. ... It’s important they know these things and their parents know what they learn so that more kids continue to come every year.”

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