With school back in session, Sgt. Margie Zietz of the Minot Police Department wants to make sure kids know that the cops are the "good guys."
Zietz is the department's crime prevention officer, which puts her in charge of several programs aimed at safety, awareness and education for kids of all ages. While Zietz said Friday that interaction with the schools is actually only a small percentage of what her department does, spend 10 minutes talking to her about interacting with kids and it's readily apparent it accounts for a large percentage of her job and personal satisfaction.
"I've been in crime prevention for seven years now," she said with a laugh. "Most of the time nobody's lasted this long. It's not a burnout that you're in the schools, but there are a lot of other programs that add a lot of extra hours."
Submitted Photo •
Sgt. Margie Zietz smiles as she interacts with a young child in this recent, undated photo. As the Minot Police Department’s crime prevention officer, Zietz interacts with schoolchildren on a number of programs.
Zietz, who is not exactly a tall person, said that going into the schools for the first time was actually the scariest part of the crime prevention post.
"I thought, 'They're going to think that I'm just some shrimpy cop,'" she said. "But I kind of turned my fear into a positive by doing the 'motherly thing' and relating to them because a lot of these kids are my own size.
"They see that you can be what you want."
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Most helpful of all, though, has been raising five children all boys, ranging in age from 19 to 8.
"So there isn't a grade in school that I haven't had to relate to," she said. She said she enjoys being approached by parents who ask questions like, "Are you the one that talked to my kid about (drugs)? My daughter told me she was really 'creeped out' about meth."
Near the top of her wish list is to have more resources dedicated to the Adopt-a-Cop program, which she said provides a great opportunity for both kids and the officer to build a rapport.
"It's kind of the same concept that I do on a continual basis, only they can relate to that one officer," she said. "In addition to that, they kind of have pride in 'their' cop."
Zietz said that the department has had a recent influx of younger officers, something she hopes will spur some interest in those types of programs.
Other crime prevention programs include CounterAct, designed to teach fifth-graders about self-esteem, substance abuse and coping skills; the McGruff House Program, which provides temporary safe havens for children who find themselves in a threatening or frightening situation; child fingerprinting programs; and Minot Police Department trading cards, which have several series in print.
Relating to kids on their own level is key to getting their interest, she said. Asking a third-grader about their spelling test and talking to high-schoolers about drinking and driving helps kids realize that the officer understands things on their own level.
Zietz has recently found another way to relate to her own kids on their own level. She is now the coach of a fifth- and sixth-grade YMCA tackle football team on which two of her boys play. And she loves it.
"It's a blast!" she said. "After 40 years of watching football, I truly never did understand it. You can see a cop car drive, but you don't understand it until you get behind the wheel. I'm actually out there, and I'm feeling it."
In fact, she said she called her sister recently to tell her to be sure that "tackle football coach" was included in her obituary in the event something happens to her.
As she proudly recites the weights of her starting linemen from memory, she laughs along with the obvious deduction that most, if not all, of those kids are actually bigger than she is.
"And they're sixth-graders!" she chuckles. "We have a lot of fun."
Most of all, her long-term involvement in the schools has enabled her to see kids who were 10 or 11 when she first met them being ready to graduate. Many times when the department assigns an additional officer to crime prevention, it is a temporary move. Zietz said that is unfortunate. More time or more officers in crime prevention could really make a difference in her opinion.
"You live it," she said. "You don't just see the difference that you make, you live it."