Police teach youngsters how to walk straight and narrow

"It's important that you don't ever cross the street alone because you are very small and the car is very big," police spokesman tells preschoolers.

police 88 (photo credit: )
police 88
(photo credit: )
It was not your average police briefing. A dozen Jerusalem preschoolers sat rapt at attention as the Israel Police officer talked about crossing the street, buckling up and calling police for help in times of need. The group of two-year-olds and a separate group of four-year-olds at Jerusalem's English-language Discovery Preschool were getting their first up-close-and-personal introduction to police. "A policeman is seen by children as a voice of authority who is listened to," said Ch.-Supt. Avi Zelba, who serves as spokesman of the civil guard and community police. Over the last couple of years, Zelba has spoken at several hundred preschools and kindergartens, giving the children their first experience with police. Zelba said that the results of such meetings, which he deemed imperative, have been "fantastic," with children actively urging their parents to buckle up before driving, one of the main messages driven home during the presentations. The event at the Discovery Preschool was Zelba's first preschool meet in English, but a stint as acting Israel Police spokesman during the 2005 Gaza pullout left the native Hebrew speaker with a good command of the language - which, he said, he first picked up from conversing with English-speaking girls in high school. "It is very important that you don't ever, ever cross the street alone, because you are very small and the car is very big and the driver cannot see you," Zelba tells the preschoolers. "If you have any problems, please look for the police," he said, after explaining why a society needs police ("Sometimes people forget that they cannot take whatever they want") and showing them the different tags and symbols on his uniform. "How do you know I am a policeman?" he asks before leaving. "Because you are wearing policeman's clothes," the children call out. "We are learning about different people in the community and how they can help," said Rochelle Somogyi, principal of the Discovery Preschool, which cares for 34 children between the ages of two and four. Zelba said it was critical for police to pay special attention to both the young and the elderly as some of the most helpless segments of the population. After a rash of recent attacks on seniors in the country, he has also begun giving senior citizens a police course on basic self-defense.