MILLEDGEVILLE, Ga. — Looking to change the perceptions of police is not an easy job. Keeping teens out of trouble is not either, but that isn't stopping members of the Milledgeville Police Department from putting their best foot forward.
Officers in the Specialized Patrol Unit are taking kids under their wings in the Mentors in Blue program. The mentoring targets middle school students and aims to keep them out of trouble.
K-9 officer Linc Boyer has been involved with the Milledgeville Police Department since he was 13 years old. He began in the Milledgeville PD Police Explorers program before eventually going through the academy and joining the force. Boyer leaned on the department after the loss of his dad in high school.
"I relied on them very, very heavily because that was a difficult time for me," Boyer said. "it was something for me to focus on and got my mind off of everything else."
Now, Boyer is there for another 13-year-old, Jaden Harden from Oak Hill Middle School. Boyer engaged with the program after seeing kids he used to interact with in his policing years now in jail.
"If we're not out there getting involved with the kids, we're going to be dealing with them when they're older," Boyer said. "So with this mentor program, if we can get a hold of them while they're younger before they get involved in gangs or whatever it may be and we can change that path for them and help them be successful, then that's all for the better."
The program was started by Major Reenae Gray. She's known her own mentee ShaCaria Hubbard for since she was in 6th grade. Now, ShaCaria is in 8th grade. Gray and the other mentors check on the students grades, help them with personal issues, and develop friendships.
Gray said so many kids go without an outlet to share what's going on in their lives.
"They're longing for somebody to be in their corner. They're longing to have that person that they can go to because sometimes they can't go to their parents," Gray said. "To know that you have a police officer that you can call 24/7, seven days a week, that is an awesome feeling."
On Thursday Boyer took his mentee Jaden to the Building Bash held by the Baldwin County Solicitor General's office. The group outing brought teens together to talk about how to build character skills like integrity, honesty and respect.
The teens built model cars, ate pizza and wings, and listened to speakers about what it takes to become a responsible citizen. It was Boyer's and Jaden's first outing together. Jaden said he's excited about what he can learn from Boyer.
"It can help me, teach me better things in life, help me not to do anything bad during my life, not to do drugs or be in a gang," Jaden said.
Boyer encourages other officers to be more community oriented in their police work.
"If you're riding around and you see a young kid sitting on his porch, get out and talk to him for a few minutes, because we have to get out of the mentality that we are stuck in that patrol car," Boyer said.
The Mentors in Blue program is open to middle school students and law enforcement officers from any agency. If interested, reach out to Major Gray at the Milledgeville Police Department.