LUMBERTON — The Rape Crisis Center of Robeson County has equipped two local police departments with something cuddly that can replace a child’s tears with a smile — 112 stuffed animals.
The center donated the bundles of joy to the Lumberton and Red Springs police departments on Tuesday. The departments were chosen because of the Lumberton department’s proximity to the center and the center’s partnership with the Red Springs police force. Police officers will give the stuffed animal to children who in a traumatic situation and upset.
“Our intention is that officers have a couple in their car when they have a need to build rapport with the child or comfort the child,” said Margaret Crites, director of the Rape Crisis Center.
Crites came up with the idea during a tour of the Lumberton Police Department. She saw that they had a box with a single stuffed bear.
“I said, ‘I can get you some bears,’” Crites said.
The Rape Crisis Center gathered the stuff animals through a local church and the Sexual Violence Prevention Task Force.
Lumberton police Maj. Tommy Barnes said the stuffed animals will be useful to the department’s social worker.
“She will probably have more of a need for access for this, but we’ll make sure our officers are aware that they are available,” Barnes said.
Red Springs Police Chief Ronnie Patterson believes the animals will help children be more comfortable with police officers who are often thought to be intimidating.
“When we have smaller kids that’s afraid of the police, this can help,” Patterson said. “We want them to know that if they’re in danger we want them to be able to come to us instead of going to a stranger.”
Crites’ work often puts her with children who are traumatized.
“If you have had a stressful moment and have seen something maybe you shouldn’t have seen or you’re scared, having something to hold onto is comforting,” Crites said.
Crites hopes the animals will help bring out the softer side in police officers.
“I think that if you have a police officer who is giving out a stuffed bulldog, or a stuffed teddy bear, or a stuffed unicorn that it makes the officer a whole lot less scary,” Crites said. “I think that also it reminds the officer that this is a child. Sometimes when you’re trying to get all of the information and get it written down, it’s easy to sometimes forget.”
The Rape Crisis Center of Robeson County is a nonprofit center dedicated to ending sexual violence by supporting victims, providing education and promoting awareness. It is located at 215 E. Third St. in Lumberton.
Tomeka Sinclair can be reached by phone at 910-416-5865 or by email at [email protected]