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Cleveland police take the lead on nationwide Little Free Library program (photo gallery)




Cleveland police Capt. Keith Sulzer has had a special place in his heart for Clark School for over a dozen years.

Between helping out with events like the annual Bike-A-Thon and dropping by regularly just to visit, Sulzer, who works in the department's community policing division, has formed a unique connection to the school community. A new literacy-centered program hopes to replicate this type of relationship between police and students across Cleveland and the rest of the country.

Kids, Community & Cops, a program of the Little Free Library nonprofit organization, will connect Cleveland police with schools through the sharing of books. The Cleveland Police Department and CMSD are partnering to make Cleveland the launch location for this national program.

The Police Department and Little Free Library hosted a launch event Monday at the Second District police station to announce the initiative. Sulzer described his vision for the program: a police officer will adopt one school and their Little Free Library, which is a small, wooden box full of books that children are encouraged to take and replace with a book they’ve already read. Not only will the officers be part of the installation of the libraries, but they’ll also make sure the libraries are stocked, replenishing the supply when it's low, Sulzer said.

“Every time a cop goes into a school, it’s usually for something bad,” Sulzer said. “So this will create the opportunity for positive interactions so that kids will get to know police officers and develop some kind of relationship.”

Little Free Library has been working in Cleveland for about four years, thanks in large part to WKYC Director of Advocacy and Community Initiatives Margaret Bernstein, who also sits on the board of Little Free Library. There are now hundreds of Little Free Libraries in the Cleveland area, along with several Action Book Clubs, a Little Free Library program in which students take on a community project in their neighborhood inspired by a book that they read.

Little Free Library Executive Director Todd Bol came to Cleveland from Wisconson to announce the Kids, Community & Cops program.

Bol said the program was created in response to police departments across the country becoming increasingly interested in boosting literacy and forming better relationships with the communities they serve. He was also inspired by memories of growing up seeing his grandfather, a policeman, be a positive influence on his neighborhood.

“I long to see communities very similar to how my grandfather’s community was when I grew up,” he said. “When Keith approached me about bringing Little Free Libraries to schools in Cleveland, I jumped all over it.”

Bol announced that the organization would donate five Little Free Libraries to get the department started. Sulzer doesn’t plan to stop at five, and hopes the Police Department will get a Little Free Library at every Cleveland school that doesn’t yet have one.

Sulzer said he also hopes the project will have an impact on keeping children out of the juvenile justice system, citing studies showing that 85 percent of children in that system are functionally illiterate.

The Cleveland Police Department’s enthusiasm for Little Free Library is exceptional for law enforcement, said Tommy Bol, events and marketing coordinator for Little Free Libary 

“The proactive energy from this Police Department is very rare,” Tony Bol said. “They’re taking on a stewardship role. That’s why Cleveland is the leader.”

The launch event brought in an enthusiastic group from the community and the District, including Cleveland City Councilman Matt Zone, Wade Park School Principal Lee Buddy, Wade Park student and Little Free Library enthusiast Madison Reid, the Police Department's community policing director Commander Johnny Johnson, Cleveland Kids Book Bank Executive Director Judy Payne and CMSD Police Chief Lester Fultz. 

In a show of his support for the program, Fultz donated the first book to the new set of Little Free Libraries.

Check out some tweets below about the launch event.