Do you remember what it was like as a kid to be excluded from a game? Or how it felt to be picked on? Police in Hopkins do, and they are trying to stop that sort of stuff from happening.
Operation Recess kicked off three weeks ago. The goal is two fold:
"To know officers and not be afraid of us," explained Officer Rob Rebai, "because they see us in our uniforms, they see us in our squad cars. We come to their homes, sometimes for bad situations."
Now, Rebai says the students get to see them in a different way.
"They can say, 'Hey I know you. I played soccer with you,'" he said.
As part of Operation Recess, officers leave their uniforms at home and spend a couple hours each week at each elementary school in the city simply playing on the playground. With a T-shirt and a whistle, officers organize games and try to get as many students involved as possible. They also keep an eye out for students who are shy or afraid to join the group.
"It's just a big issue with perception these days -- overweight, too skinny, too tall. Kids figure out a way to push buttons on other kids, and I think we are seeing it more and more everywhere in the city -- city wide," said Officer Ian Flam.
Flam and Rebai have seen the heartbreaking results that follow when older kids get harassed by schoolmates. That's part of the reason the officers sign up to spend their off time on Operation Recess.
"These kids taking their lives because of simple words. It's unfortunate and bullying these days has to be taken extremely seriously because they are threats," said Rebai.
With more adults on the playground, bullies are more likely to get busted. In fact, the principal of Alice Smith Elementary School, Jody De St. Hubert, said teachers have already noticed shy students coming back to class with more excitement and confidence.
"When the kids have a positive experience on the playground … going back into math or reading is so much smoother," said De St. Hubert.
Operation Recess is made possible by a $20,000 Federal Grant from Met Life Foundation. Officers are paid to play with the kids during off hours, but the money does not come from tax dollars. The program is scheduled to continue through next fall.
"We can only do what we can do given the amount of time we have, but we hope it makes a difference," said Flam.