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U.S. Department of Justice
Office of Community Oriented Policing Services
The COPS Office is pleased to feature Round Rock (Texas) Police Department (RRPD) as the August 2019 winner of the Community Policing in Action Photo Contest. The winning photo features Round Rock’s SWAT Officer Mike Salinas painting a young girl’s fingernails at the department’s annual Back to School Celebration.
The Round Rock Police Department’s Back to School Celebration has it all: a petting zoo, dunk tank, live entertainment, fingernail painting by SWAT officers, CPR demonstrations, law enforcement vehicle displays, bounce houses, baseball lessons in a minor league stadium, back-to-school necessities, and much more.
This annual celebration began in 2014 when Chief Allen Banks wanted to find a way to help underprivileged youth, as well as bring together the community and law enforcement in Round Rock. “It's just our way to help bridge that gap between our community and law enforcement, and our business community as well. My whole goal is [to] invest in our youth, [because] if we invest in our youth while they're young. . . then hopefully we can put them on the path to success,” says Banks.
The popular event has grown in size each year. What started as a small event has blossomed into more than 11,000 attendees filing through the gates of the Dell Diamond baseball stadium. Families line up early for the day-long affair in anticipation of the fun to come. Students receive free school supplies, sports physicals, and hearing and vision screenings in preparation for the new school year. The food, drinks, activities, and entertainment are also available to residents at no cost.
Chief Banks stressed the importance of the event being free to all attendees. He “doesn’t want anybody to come to this event with a wallet.” The extra money that parents would have spent on school necessities “can be used elsewhere to pay bills, buy groceries, or something more essential.”
Executing the free event requires a collaborative effort from volunteers and community partners. There are over 200 volunteers and a variety of sponsors that help the RRPD in funding, setting up, and leading the event from start to finish.“It is all about the partnerships and the people who believe in the vision,” Chief Banks explained “[The businesses] realize that these kids may be their future store managers, employees, city councilors, and mayors.” These community leaders want to “participate in the event and be a part of the solution of investing in and taking care of our kids.”
The relationships that the RRPD has made with the community as a whole makes the event successful each year. “To see [our police officers and residents] laughing together and starting those relationships . . . that is what [this celebration] is all about, seeing those smiles,” Chief Banks remarked.
Some of the biggest smiles you will see are at the fingernail painting booth, where the winning Photo Contest image was taken. The booth is staffed by RRPD’s SWAT team officers and is one of the “biggest draws” at the event. “One of our officers came up with the idea and the kids absolutely loved it. We have some of the biggest lines at the painting booth.” What Chief Banks loves about the activity is that it humanizes the officers. “Having one of our biggest officers in full gear painting the nails of a little girl and allowing her to paint his nails too. . . it shows our kids that [they] don’t have to be afraid of our officers. And, to see the smile on that young girl’s face, it was absolutely amazing.”
This year will be the RRPD’s sixth time hosting the Back to School celebration, and Chief Banks is expecting 13,000 to 15,000 people to attend. “We are seriously blessed with some of these programs that we have,” says Chief Banks. “We are very proud of our event and what we are doing. My mantra here is ‘One Community,’ because that is what it is all about. . . [our] Round Rock community.”
Written with contributions from Round Rock Police Chief Allen Banks. Photo courtesy of Round Rock Police Department.
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