ROCKDALE COUNTY, Ga. - Two Rockdale County deputies have found some unique ways to connect with members of their community.
From back to school water balloon fights, to dance competitions in the park, Carrie Chappel and Vincent Lopez know how to make an impression. Both are Rockdale County sheriff's deputies and both have pretty good dance moves, even with the 30 extra pounds they carry between gun belts, bullet proof vests and other safety gear.
While some of their visits are scheduled, others are impromptu stops they make while they're on patrol and almost all of their visits end up with kids laughing and having a good time. That's exactly what the deputies want.
"We feel like if you change the mindset of young people, you help change them.They talk to their parents about the cool police officer they danced with or met and that's how we change negative opinions about law enforcement officers," Deputy Chappel told FOX 5 during a recent stop at Salem High School in Conyers.
Over the summer, Chappel and Lopez together earned the nickname "Team Chapez." They try to keep the conversations light and friendly, but they do not shy away from the candid conversions many Americans are having right now about officer-involved shootings and tensions between police and the public.
"I'm not always wearing this uniform. I've been pulled over before and I have family that's been pulled over. The first thing to do just to get through the situation is to show respect," said Deputy Lopez.
Deputy Chappel said she tries to keep everyone's perspective in mind when she's on patrol.
"I understand sometimes I am coming into contact with people who haven't had the best interactions with police, so I'm always gunna treat everybody with respect and that's all we want in return,"
Deputy Chappel even carries teddy bears in her patrol car. She says they come in handy when she meets children who are afraid of police.
"It helps kids trust me," she said.
The deputies plan to visit several Rockdale County schools during the school year, hoping to build bridges one handshake, one dance move or even one laugh at a time.They said they hope their visits will give young people an opportunity not just to dance and have fun but also to have some serious conversations about the strained relationships between some law enforcement officers and some segments of the community.
"We know it won't fix everything, but we just want to help bring the community together, especially for the young people," Chappel said.
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