Student crime solvers get lessons in policing

Posted: March 29, 2013

The Winchester Star

Members of the Daniel Morgan Middle School Crime Solvers learn how to look for crimes in the community and in the school. The group also allows them to build relationships with law enforcement.
Winchester Police Cpl. Brittney Neer and her canine, Dakota, give a demonstration of police work to members of the Daniel Morgan Middle School student Crime Solvers group. (Photo by Jeff Taylor/The Winchester Star)
ABOVE: Winchester Police Cpl. Brittney Neer releases her canine, Dakota, after he stopped Daniel Morgan Middle School Resource Officer Paul McFarland during a demonstration for the student Crime Solvers. (Photo by Jeff Taylor/The Winchester Star)
RIGHT: Daniel Morgan Middle School eighth-grader Caitlin Perrott, a member of the school’s Crime Solvers group, watches the canine demonstration.

WINCHESTER — More than 15 middle school students were bursting with questions Wednesday afternoon while watching a police canine demonstration.

“Do his ears help?”

“Does he think he’s playing when he’s working?”

“Do you have to keep him on a leash?”

Winchester Police Department Cpl. Brittney Neer and her furry partner, Dakota — a 5-year-old German shepherd — visited Daniel Morgan Middle School to show the school’s new Crime Solvers group what they do on the job.

The group, called the DMMS Crime Prevention Initiative, has had three meetings — with 15 to 20 kids attending two of them — since its inception and seems to be gaining in popularity, according to school resource officer Paul McFarland.

Special speaker Neer and her demonstration is one of many things McFarland has in store for the club.

“[The meetings will] educate them on different things,” he said. “They’ll know a lot about what a police officer does and what they [the students] shouldn’t be doing.”

The meetings give students at the Winchester school notice about how to look for crimes in the community and at Daniel Morgan, and allows them to build relationships with law enforcement.

One of the goals of the group is to give kids an avenue to call and report about crimes in the school and remain anonymous.

However, the after-school, voluntary student meetings are not designed to be a “snitch club.”

“It builds camaraderie and gives kids a sense of responsibility,” said Jim Pearce, Winchester/Frederick/Clarke County Crime Solvers board chairman. “It gives them an outlet to make the schools even safer than they already are.”

According to its website, Crime Solvers is a community-based nonprofit organization that partners with law enforcement, the media and the community in the fight against crime.

The Winchester/Frederick County Crime Solvers provides a 24-hour confidential hotline and offers rewards of up to $1,000 for tips leading to the arrest and indictment of individuals wanted for criminal offenses.

Currently, the only other school with a Crime Solvers club is Handley High School — which has run as a stand-alone group for about seven years, according to Pearce.

He said Crime Solvers tried to get groups started in Frederick County Public Schools, but they just never took off.

“My wish is that we can get it in all the high schools and some of the middle schools,” Pearce said, referring to all area divisions.

McFarland said the new group at Daniel Morgan will have two more meetings this school year and he’d like to see more kids join.

Antonio Staples, an 11-year-old fifth-grader at the school, said he wanted to be in the group to learn about what police officers do in their field.

“That’s something I’m interested in and want to do when I grow up,” he said.

He added that he loves animals, and that it was really cool to see a police dog Wednesday.

Andrew Stotlemyer, the 13-year-old son of a police officer, said he is interested in law enforcement and informing other kids about the field.

The seventh-grader said he has a different perspective about the business because his dad is an officer.

Helping the community is why fifth-grader Stephanie Doney, 11, of Winchester, joined the club.

“I’ve always been into detective work,” she said, declaring her love for the television show “Rizzoli and Isles,” about a police detective and medical examiner.

The school doesn’t have its own crime tip hotline yet, but McFarland said he hopes it will one day. The Winchester/Frededrick Crime Solvers hotline is 540-665-8477.

— Contact Melissa Boughton at mboughton@winchesterstar.com