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Program Pits Kids Against Crime


SAN DIMAS — Some kids were shy when they looked at themselves in the small hand-mirrors.

They gripped the mirrors, stared at their faces and were silent. But with a little coaxing, they whispered: "I have nice eyes," "I think I'm pretty" and "I like myself."

The exercise is part of the Junior Neighborhood Watch Program, sponsored by the Walnut-San Dimas Sheriff's Department station, under way at four San Dimas elementary schools.

For five weeks, about 230 children, ages 8 to 12, are lectured weekly on bicycle safety, crime prevention, vandalism, self-esteem and other subjects.

The exercise with the mirrors is in the self-esteem lecture. "Those involved in drug use and gangs have low self-esteem," said Ella Cooks, the station's school resource officer. "We try to make them feel special so they don't get involved in gangs."

Cooks devised the program last year. It is the only Neighborhood Watch for children in the county areas served by sheriff's deputies, she said.

In the adult version, neighborhood residents appoint block captains, meet with police for tips on how to prevent crime in their area and post the familiar orange-colored Neighborhood Watch decals.

Those in this junior version are students enrolled in the extended day-care programs at Ekstrand, Gladstone, Allen Avenue and Shull elementary schools, as well as those from Girl Scout Troop 313.

The children meet weekly after school with Cooks and other deputies. They receive Junior Crime Watch cards and paper sheriff's stars in plastic holders--if they attend most of the sessions. "I want them to feel they have earned their cards," Cooks said.

The program, in its second year, ends April 6 with an evening pledge ceremony in the San Dimas community center, when the children will vow to report crime, protect their neighborhoods and avoid committing crimes themselves.

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