By Dave Ongie, News Editor
It’s been said that the best way to get a clear picture of what others are going through is to walk a mile in their shoes.
Johnson City native Jocelyn Lacey got that opportunity a few years back while working for the Children’s Advocacy Center. Lacey had developed a working relationship with officers from the Johnson City Police Department during her prior job at a domestic violence shelter, so when a JCPD detective Lacey worked closely with at the Children’s Advocacy Center suggested she take part in the Citizen’s Police Academy offered by the police department, Lacey jumped at the chance.
After embarking on the nine-week program, which ended with a ride-along with a JCPD officer, Lacey had just one regret.
“My only regret is I didn’t do it sooner,” Lacey told the News & Neighbor last week from her home in Maine.
Lacey’s experience culminated in a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. ride-along with a JCPD officer, which she said helped open her eyes to all the roles police officers play when dealing with the public on a daily basis.
“It was really interesting to see the officer interact with all different kinds of people in all different kinds of situations,” she said.
The experience stuck with Lacey and eventually inspired her to write a children’s book called “What Do Police Officers Do?” The book aims to show children the multifaceted nature of a police officer’s job with an overriding message that police officers are people they can go to when they need help.
“It’s basically instilling that police officers are there to help you, they are your friend, and if you ever feel like you are scared, they can make you feel safe,” Lacey said.
Heather Brack, the planning and research manager for the JCPD, was happy to hear about the book and hopeful that officers in the department might get the chance to use it as an outreach tool in our community.
“It definitely helps morale,” Brack said. “Everyone here inside of the department does this because they want to serve their community. It’s the small tokens of appreciation, and a big gesture such as this, that always make the rough days easier.”
Community outreach has been a high priority for the JCPD for quite some time. In addition to the Citizen’s Police Academy, the department has traditionally offered a Junior Police Academy, participated in community events like the Fishout and Shop with a Cop, and provided School Resource Officers in partnership with Johnson City Schools. Obviously COVID-19 has curtailed or altered many of those programs, but Brack said community outreach remains a top priority for the department.
“I think that’s part of the entire mission of the police department in order to serve the citizens here in Johnson City,” Brack said. “Community policing is a very big aspect of policing right now, and it should be.”
Brack added that developing positive relationships with citizens from a young age is a vital part of the department’s mission.
“I think it’s incredibly important to start at a young age,” she said. “Especially with school resource officers with these community events and things like that, it allows the children of our community to see us as helpers, that they can always come to us if they’ve got questions or if they want a sticker.”
While Lacey hoped to have the book published earlier, she firmly believes the timing is perfect for her book to be released, and she’s launched a grassroots campaign to ensure copies can be distributed to families in as many communities across the country as possible. Those who wish to contribute to the publication of the book can do so by visiting www.gofundme.com/f/help-publish-children039s-book-about-police-officers.
“I wanted to do something for the officers, and I wanted to make it bigger than myself,” Lacey said. “I’m trying to be an advocate for them.”