In August 2022, the Bellingham Police Department (BPD) and the Bellingham Public Library began a new collaborative partnership. The goal is to increase literacy, foster a positive relationship between children and law enforcement in the Bellingham, WA community, and connect kids with the public library system.
Known as the BPD Literacy Initiative, the partnership kicked-off with a free event outside the Bellingham Central Library. Children five-years-old and under received a free book and the opportunity to interact with BPD officers and their vehicles, do a craft, play and have a chance to read a book with an officer.
On an ongoing basis, Bellingham Police officers now have access to children’s books in their patrol cars that can be given away to children in need during their daily interactions with the public. These books were chosen by the Bellingham Public Library Children’s Services staff, grouped by age, and are available in several languages.
“The goal of the library-police department partnership was really to get diverse, inclusive books into kids homes. There is so much pride in owning books, which increases children’s literacy rates facilitating family bonding and strength. Our police department has access to families that perhaps the library doesn’t. Additionally, this initiative is a community building program. Many families attended the kick-off event at the Library, and had the opportunity to talk with and interact with police officers in a non-emergent event,” said Bellingham Public Library Deputy Director Bethany Hoglund.
Law enforcement officers are in a unique position that creates regular interaction with children and homes due to a variety of reasons. These interactions create an opportunity for officers to positively impact children, their homes, and the community by providing them with age-appropriate books.
Research has shown that incarceration rates are inversely related to literacy rates. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (2014), “the U.S. incarcerated population had lower average literacy and numeracy scores than the U.S. household population.” One of the best ways to increase literacy in a community is to increase a child’s access to books, especially for children five and younger.
“BPD Literacy Initiative is a unique way for our law enforcement officers to have non-enforcement positive experiences with our children. I am excited for this impactful community engagement opportunity and I am very grateful for our partnership with Bellingham Public Library,” said Bellingham Police Chief Rebecca Mertzig.
To initiate the program, the police department applied for and was awarded a Project Neighborly grant from the Whatcom Community Foundation. The grant allowed the library and police department to purchase over 2,000 books that will be given away to children in the Bellingham community.
Annette Bagley, Head of Community Relations, Bellingham Public Library, 360-778-7206, firstname.lastname@example.org
Claudia Murphy, Lieutenant Bellingham Police Department, 360-778-8834, email@example.com