LOWER MORELAND — Students in the Lower Moreland Township School District will be making some new friends during their bus rides to and from school next year — and these friends are going to be older with some interesting stories to tell.
After a four-week early rollout last month, the Lower Moreland Police Department once again plans to assign officers as what it calls Bus Stop Buddies to ride along with students on school buses in the new school year.
The program is the brainchild of the police department’s new chief, David Scirrotta, who is making community engagement a priority under his new leadership. Scirrotta has been a member of the department since 1992 and became the new chief in January following the retirement of Pete Hasson.
Scirrotta said his goal is to strengthen trust between residents and the police and there is no better time to start building that trust than when people are young. The bus rides afford a unique opportunity to talk and learn in a controlled setting free from the usual worldly distractions.
The program had a limited run in May with officers joining students on Wednesday bus rides starting in the early morning. Elementary, middle school and high school students had opportunities to meet their community officers on these runs.
Scirrotta, who participated in bus rides himself, said the elementary school students had the most fun with the new buddies they made.
“They just loved it,” he said. “They asked about police work. We talked about behaving on the bus, and we talked about we they had for breakfast.”
He said the older teens were less interactive, but the officers expected that. He said as an age group more influenced by social media, high school students in particular tend to be less trustful. He added, however, that officer Christopher Daniel, as one of the department’s participants, did a great job of joking with the older students and helping to break the ice.
Scirrotta said a bus ride ideally includes two officers – one sitting in the front and one in the back. He said a child’s personality can influence where that child sits on a bus. Students who are shy or feel vulnerable tend to sit close to the front near the driver, while those likely to misbehave sit in the back.
While the goal is to engage with all students, officers will be particularly aware of any students who may be vulnerable to bullying or just need someone to talk to.
Officers have handed out spirit sticks, bracelets and “swag” to the students celebrating their new friendship with the police department.
Scirrotta said the ride-alongs will be returning in the new school year, with a schedule yet to be determined.
“The Lower Moreland Police Department are a vital part of the community,” said Dr. Scott Davidheiser, the district’s superintendent. “The district will continue to look for ways to engage with our local police to ensure the safety of our students and staff.”