If you look at the photo accompanying this article, you'll see a big, bad cop in a flak vest ... knitting. Yes, that's right, it's Castlegar RCMP Const. Rob Gardner knitting with a group of grade-schoolers at Twin Rivers Elementary School.
And don't make fun of the vest, word on the street is, those knitting needles can be super sharp.
While perhaps not the traditional TV cop role of taking down drug dealers and busting gang-bangers, a school liaison position like the one Gardner is in here can be critical to long-term police effectiveness in the community, according to Sgt. Laurel Mathew.
“It builds bonds with the kids and creates a level of trust – the kids end up seeing the police as approachable, and feel safer coming to us if there's some sort of trouble,” she said. “That's a foundation that can last a lifetime in a small community like ours.”
A school liaison officer also provides a point of contact for teachers and school administration, so in the event of a school-based issue requiring police attendance, there's an existing relationship to facilitate collaboration.
Mathew also said liaison cops play basketball and other sports, finding fun ways to get to know the kids, many of whom have lots of questions about drugs and crime life choices that the officers can answer in a healthy, respectful and accurate way.
Although it appears the knitting is a first.
Gardner spends most of his time as a general duties officer, but he drops by Twin Rivers whenever the opportunity arises.
“I got in early for the D.A.R.E. Program awhile ago, and I was early, so I popped by the library to see what they were doing. Turns out, they have a knitting club,” Gardner said, admitting he'd never before picked up a knitting needle in his life. “I have to go back now, because I only have 10 rows done – apparently, I've got lots more to do.”
He said he appreciates the youngsters helping him master this new skill, but his ambitious bookmark project is not the primary objective – the goal is to create a rapport that transcends the TV/movie/video-game image of cops, humanizing them in the eyes of the children.
“I'm still at the rookie stage of the knitting process, but I think it's going well,” he said.
All the local schools have a police liaison – there's Const. Sofie Winkles at Robson and Const. Ron George at Kinnaird.