12:41 pm, Tue Mar 12, 2013
Buzzing activity, the smell of pizza and pasta wafting through the air and students quickly finding seats: This is a daily scene in many school cafeterias. But on certain days in Santa Fe high schools like the New Mexico School for the Arts, Santa Fe Prep, Santa Fe High School and St. Michael’s High School, a group of police officers mingle and eat lunch with students. The goal is for the students to get to know the officers as people, not just cops.
The Mayor’s Youth Advisory Board started The Positive Youth Engagement Officer Program in Santa Fe high schools in September 2009. According to Adrian Salazar, a senior at Santa Fe High School and the president of the Mayor’s Youth Advisory Board, the program began as a way to help dissolve stereotypes that some Santa Fe teens may have about police officers and to lower the influence of gang violence in schools. Salazar added that an important goal of the program was to make cops more accessible to teens.
Nico Butler, a senior police officer at the Santa Fe Police Department, said that the program is as beneficial for officers as it is for the teens. Butler said he often deals with criminals and difficult situations, and that he likes hanging out with students and breaking up his day by having lunch with them.