New program transports teens without fear of arrest
Safe Home Initiative
GOWANDA — A new program for village youth proposed by Officer-in-charge Dennis Feldmann had many in attendance at the May village board meeting intrigued, then elated when the board passed the measure following Feldmann’s presentation.
The program, entitled “Safe Home Initiative,” was introduced by Feldmann as a way for students to get a ride home in an uncertain situation. “We want to implement a Safe Home Initiative,” Feldmann began. “We go to schools and teach students about distracted, impaired and fatigued driving, but there’s never an answer for them when say, they’re a passenger in the car.”
Having an alternative ride source in a rural area such as Gowanda is hard to come by, as Uber and Lyfts don’t seem to meander that deep into the counties that make up the municipality. This is especially true for teens and young adults who can’t afford their own vehicle.
“If a youth is in trouble, in jeopardy or they’re in a precarious situation where they’ve had a few drinks,” Feldmann went on to say. “Or they don’t want to get in the car with their intoxicated friends or parents, they’ll be able to call the police department and we’ll be able to get them home safely. We (Gowanda) are very unique, we are the hub of the communities around us.”
One of the key features of the initiative is that the caller, of any age, will not get in trouble even if they’re intoxicated. “I was approached by some children yesterday when I talked to them and they asked, ‘well am I going to get in trouble?'” Feldmann mentioned. “No, this is a non-arrest thing. This is a trip home, like the deal you make with your parents come anytime it’s not going to be a lecture.”
The program gives officers a chance to evaluate an individual, without resistance stemming from an individual’s fear of repercussions as well. “One thing we’ll be able to do is see how intoxicated they are, or if they need medical assistance,” Feldmann stated. “If they’re on a controlled substance, to get them some medical assistance, so they don’t get home and possibly aspirate on themselves or not have immediate access to Narcan.”
Disaster Coordinator Nick Crassi also weighed in on the matter. “We used to do programs for the schools, and I’m really glad Dennis brought the Safe Home Initiative program to the school,” Crassi said of the Safe Home Initiative. “I hope it hits home to some of them.”
Crassi also spoke about incidents that don’t end well in situations like those Feldmann described, citing a recent fatal accident in Dayton in particular.
“We had a terrible accident in Dayton,” Crassi noted. “The car was split in half, drunk driving and speeding played a part. … Young kid, 22-years-old snuffed out. Dennis and I have gone to hundreds of these accidents. … It still hits home really hard. When Dennis and I have to talk with the family members, we sit there and be an understanding face, but inside it tears us apart too.”
The impact an accident has on a community has the potential to change to everything, and everyone. “To get a child home safely is huge to me, there’s nothing more important,” Feldmann went on to comment. “We all know when we lose a youth in the community it doesn’t just affect the family, it affects the school, coaches, SRO officers, it affects so many people in a bad way.”
Trustee Wanda Koch praised the Safe Home Initiative for its devotion to a safer community. “I think it’s great,” Koch noted of the program. “You also don’t want someone walking down the street alone at night in an impaired condition.”
Feldmann also emphasized that the ride-giving program isn’t just for questionable situations, but many scenarios for area youth. “We have a lot of single family homes here, where the parents are working and kids don’t have a way home,” Feldmann stated. “I think that’s a huge program to offer to the students, with the board’s approval I’m hoping to put out a pamphlet to kids at school come September.”
Closing out his comments, Feldmann again noted that safety is the top priority for kids of all ages and walks of life in the village. “This is not to get students in trouble, it’s to get them home safely,” he mentioned. “We’re not the moral police, we’ll let the parents deal with that.”