UND Police help Grand Forks children celebrate birthdays in isolation
In the past week, UND Police have visited six children to flash their lights, sound their sirens and wish them a happy birthday.
Kaitlyn Stahlman turned 13 on Thursday, May 7, amid her family's self-isolation in their Grand Forks home. Her mom, Tracy Stahlman, said Kaitlyn made the best of a bad situation - she requested dinner from Texas Roadhouse, picked up curbside, and made plans with her friends to chat online and eat cake, delivered to each friend's house courtesy of the Stahlmans.
But despite Kaitlyn's good attitude, Tracy said she knew her daughter was still a little disappointed about her quarantine birthday. So, she asked UND Police to pay Kaitlyn a surprise visit to make the day a little extra special.
"I just thought it would be something cute for her," Tracy said. "She doesn't even know it's happening."
UND Police announced on their Facebook page on Saturday that they would pay a visit to any child celebrating a birthday in quarantine. UNDPD Lt. Danny Weigel said he got the idea from other law enforcement agencies he saw doing similar things on social media. Since posting the offer, he said they've received plenty of interest, and officers had gone to six birthdays as of Thursday afternoon.
Generally, visiting officers will turn on their lights a block or two away before pulling up to the child's house, Weigel said. With social distancing in mind, Weigel said officers do not leave the vehicle, but, if the child is outside, they'll roll down the window to say hello. The visit ends with the officer turning on the siren a few times and driving away.
Weigel said the visits haven't only been a hit with local kids, but with officers, too.
"I know a lot of our officers have been excited to do it, because many of them have kids and they understand as well that keeping kids engaged and working on schoolwork and then missing a birthday party with friends can be difficult," Weigel said. "So a lot of our officers have actually been volunteering to go and do it, and it's something that they enjoy doing as well."
With more people staying at home, making it sometimes more of a challenge for law enforcement to engage with the community, Weigel said the birthday visits give police officers an opportunity to continue to find ways to connect with the people they protect.
"The kids are able to see law enforcement in a positive light so they know that, 'Hey, I remember back when I was a kid they drove by my birthday party when things were a little weird, I know I can trust them, I can go up to them if I need something,'" Weigel said. "That's really what it's about, just building that relationship when kids are young and then continuing to build on that relationship as they get older."
At 1 p.m. Thursday, Tracy told Kaitlyn to go outside with her brother Chris, 15, where UNDPD Officer Jose Solis was waiting to wish her a happy birthday.
"It went good!" Tracy said afterward. "She smiled. She was laughing."