By all accounts, the Tustin Police Department’s first-ever Run with a Cop program exceeded its goals.
Nearly 140 Heideman Elementary School students participated in the nine-week program, which involved exercising twice a week, learning proper nutrition and healthy living habits and the concept of community service.
Designed and run by Officer Matt Roque, the program also helped foster a bond between the police and the community.
It culminated with a celebration in the school parking lot Saturday, complete with carnival-style games, free health services and recognition for a job well done.
“We wanted a big celebration,” Roque said. “(We wanted to) give them medals for their accomplishments, but also give them community services that they need.”
Attendees could receive dental exams, eye exams, eye glasses and haircuts – all free.
“I love the program,” said Marie Lipari, mother of Cali, 10, and Jayden, 8, both participants in Run with a Cop. “I like that they get the kids involved in not just running, but they teach them about nutrition and healthy eating and how their sleep is very important.”
“It teaches them how to be upstanding citizens in the community.”
Feeling that some in the community were losing trust with the police, those exact living skills were what Roque had in mind when he launched the program in this low-income enclave, bound by the 5 and 55 freeways, where the lure of gangs and other negative influences had been present.
“We are a community here, so let’s live the right way,” Roque said. “The support has been overwhelming.”
When Run with a Cop was first announced, the interest was immediate, said Sean Lindsay, Heideman’s principal.
About 60 students turned out for the first after-school run, he said. About 80 turned out for the second.
The number of participants suddenly topped 100 and they had to close enrollment because it grew too large, the principal said.
“The relationship we have been able to develop with the police department through this has been amazing,” Lindsay said. “The school is very grateful.”
Of the 140 participants in the running club, Roque said about 100 showed up Saturday, along with another 200 people, including parents, academy recruits from the Golden West Criminal Justice Training Center and the Tustin PD explorers.
Roque said parents are already asking when the next Run with a Cop program will take place.
But the officer doesn’t want it to stop with Heideman.
He hopes to launch the program in other schools and wants to organize a 5K run in the Heideman neighborhood, which would be open to the public and serve as a fundraiser for the school.
“There is a lot to take pride of here,” he said. “There are amazing families and amazing people. Having that event in their neighborhood every year will build that spirit.”