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Emily Welker, Published May 29 2013

‘Blue Days’ aims to connect cops with community

FARGO – It’s an unfortunate fact of the job, most police officers will tell you, that the mere sight of police in uniform can intimidate some members of the public.

When that uniform is as big as the one Sgt. Kevin Volrath wears, the fear factor for the smallest citizens can be even bigger.

“I say, ‘Hi,’ to the kids,” Volrath said, whenever he’s away from his desk and out on the street. “I hear them say, ‘He’s kinda scary.’ ”

That’s part of why Volrath and other members of Fargo top police brass spent Wednesday at area schools in the first day of the department’s two-day “Blue Days” program.

The program gets officers, from command staff on down, out in plain view to enforce traffic laws, including seat belt use.

But they’re not primarily there to write tickets, Volrath said. They’re there to connect with school staff, parents picking up their students and, especially, the kids themselves.

“Kids are bringing home projects, posters, the heap of clothing they left there,” Volrath said.

The slowed-down foot traffic provides an opportunity for interaction with officers in a setting that’s more casual and positive than regular enforcement settings.

South High sophomore Abby Roberts was just leaving campus with an armload of art projects at the end of the day Wednesday. Roberts said she might find it a little frightening if she were to encounter the police chief or other high-ranking officials around school as it lets out.

“But I think we’re all pretty responsible,” said Roberts, who said having school resource officers available throughout the school year has made her more comfortable in general with law enforcement. “If they’re giving tickets, it’s for a reason.”

Roberts’ friend and fellow sophomore Radek Weisz agreed, adding that 17th Avenue South is well-patrolled by Fargo police.

“I probably wouldn’t notice any extra patrol vehicles the next couple of days,” said Weisz. “There usually are officers, and I think they’re doing a pretty good job.”

Volrath, who was one of the department’s first DARE officers, said attitudes in children toward law enforcement officials have benefited from the introduction of the school resource officer program.

“Before, it was almost, ‘head for the hills,’ ” he said. “There’s definitely a bigger comfort factor with the youth today.”

That comfort factor may be enhanced by the ice cream and other coupons Volrath handed out at Bennett Elementary, running out within 15 minutes of the final bell. It was a nice change of pace, he said.

“As a police officer, we get hardened – we’re dealing with people at their worst, or at their toughest time,” he said. “So I tell my officers, take advantage of it.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Emily Welker at (701) 241-5541