The Newark (Delaware) Police Department: To Protect and Embrace

The COPS Office is pleased to feature the July 2016 winner of the Community Policing in Action Photo Contest—The Newark (Delaware) Police Department. The winning photo features Officer Aaron Olicker (left) and Cpl. James Spadola giving out free hugs in downtown Newark on May 8, 2015.

When Cpl. James Spadola and Officer Aaron Olicker decided to give away free hugs in a busy area of Newark, Delaware, they expected positive results, but were unaware of how much the hugs would have an impact on their own lives. “There’s something about giving a hug that just feels good,” shared Olicker. “Not only did the citizens need it, but we needed it too. It was powerful. Just talking about it gives me goose bumps.”

Spadola suggested the idea earlier in the year as a way to promote “strictly positive” interactions with law enforcement after the widespread national coverage of negative police interactions around the country. The department agreed to try it out when the weather warmed up, and in May, Spadola and Olicker set out with a large sign that read “FREE HUGS #HugACop.”

Most walkers that passed the officers were happy to hug them both, posing for pictures, and giving them words of encouragement and gratitude. A few were uninterested, but that was expected by the officers. “There was always the potential for something negative to happen since we were doing something so unconventional, but nothing negative happened besides people not wanting to hug us,” said Spadola.

When the officers posted a short video of the experience on the department’s Facebook page, it went viral, with over 7.5 million views and over 8,000 comments to date. The concept quickly spread and has been replicated around the world, reaching as far as Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. Various news outlets have covered the story, creating special buzz around the two officers.

But the officers remain humble and see efforts like these as a daily part of the job. “We’ve always had a positive relationship with the citizens of Newark, but I feel like we can always do more to build relationships the community, both locally and nationally,” said Olicker. “Any positive interaction we have with the community here helps nationally.” 

Newark is located about 12 miles southwest of Wilmington. With a population of approximately 32,000 people, Newark is home to the University of Delaware. Its close proximity to Interstate-95 and large number of hotels makes it a common stop for travelers. The department, made up of 71 sworn officers and 25 civilians1, experiences similar challenges to departments nationwide.

Newark’s officers engage positively with the community on a regular basis, often doing many things that go undocumented, like playing basketball with area youth. Just two weeks prior to the COPS Office interview, the department hosted an event at a trampoline park for youth identified by local schools. Last year, officers gave free bicycle helmets to youth seen riding without them. And during the winter, many off-duty officers shovel driveways for elderly and disabled residents. 

But giving away free hugs has proven to be more than just engaging the community for these Newark officers. It has given them a renewed sense of validation during a time in which law enforcement and community relations may be somewhat strained in certain parts of the country. “There’s something about a hug that just feels good. It doesn’t matter who you are,” said Olicker.

And by capturing their experience that day in May, the world was able to enjoy the moment with them, even if just for a short time. “The video shows 3 minutes of us being out there for an hour. We were hugging people from all walks of life and so many people expressed their gratitude to us,” shared Olicker. “That was powerful.”

The COPS Office congratulates the Newark Police Department for being one of the 12 winners of the COPS Office 2016 Community Policing in Action Photo Contest and for its commitment to community policing.

Written with contributions from Newark Police Department Cpl. James Spadola and Officer Aaron Olicker. Photo courtesy of the Newark Police Department.

Najla Haywood
Special Contributor
The COPS Office

1 “History of Department,” accessed June 2, 2016,

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