By: Abigail Margulis
ASHEVILLE – Policing is not just about preventing or solving crimes, said Asheville Police Department forensic expert Carissa Herrington, but it’s also about making connections with the community and learning what they need.
Since the end of January, Herrington has been taking time each week to spend an hour with an 11-year-old at Vance Elementary in West Asheville as part of a new initiative that Big Brothers Big Sisters of Buncombe County and APD launched earlier this year.
Big Brothers Big Sisters began a national program in 2016 called Bigs in Blue, which pairs a law enforcement officer with a local youth while also enriching community-police relations, according to the organization.
Asheville is among several cities across the country participating.
The agency’s first match between an officer, called a Big, and a child, called a Little, was made in January when Herrington was matched with Lonna. Big Brothers Big Sisters has a policy to not disclose a child’s last name.
When Herrington heard about the program, she said she jumped at the chance to participate.
“It’s a way to be a role model, but at the same time show them what (police) do,” she said. “I love working with younger kids, setting an example and answering questions.”
Children are innocent, Herrington added. This opportunity shows them from the beginning that police officers are there to help the community and its a way for police to learn how they can better serve the community.
Lonna was nervous to meet her Big since she works for APD, she said, but after meeting Herrington her opinion of police officers has changed.
“I’ve heard some bad things about officers,” she said. “I’ve heard that some are mean, but (Carissa) is really nice and fun to be around.”
Each week, the pair looks forward to spending time together as they create crafts, work on homework or talk. Both said they love using glitter and making messes.
On Wednesday, Herrington taught Lonna how she looks for finger prints at a crime scene. They spent about 30 minutes finger printing various items and dusting them for prints as the two talked and laughed.
Since January, seven Asheville police officers have volunteered for the program, and two matches have been successfully made, said Jordan Foltz with Big Brothers Big Sisters of Western North Carolina. Two more pairs will be matched next week.
Robin Myer, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters WNC, said that by partnering with APD the organization looks forward to positively impacting more children with the “special program.”
Myer met with Asheville Police Chief Tammy Hooper in December to discuss the Bigs in Blue initiative, according to a news release.
Hooper said she is excited for the community partnership. “One of the best things we can do to improve the trust and help the youth in our city is to listen to them, spend time with them and just be there for them.”