Officers aim to punch up children's self-defense skill

By STEPHEN GURR
The Times

Joe Britte is looking forward to getting punched and kicked by a bunch of 8-year-olds. The Gainesville police crime prevention officer will be wearing a big, red suit of full-body padding when that happens, of course.

He and fellow Gainesville Police Officer Brad Baker will take turns taking a beating as part of the "radKids" safety education course that starts next month.

But radKids is more than just punching practice for preadolescents, Britte said.

"It's not teaching kids how to fight," he said. "It's about personal empowerment, the power to look in a predator's eyes and say, 'You're not going to hurt me,' and running and telling someone, whether it's a parent or a teacher."

The four-day course will be held starting Feb. 17. Each class lasts two hours and covers everything from how to deal with bullies to Internet safety.

Children ages 8 to 12 will be taught in the first quarter. A similar class for 5- to 7-year-olds will be offered beginning in April.

It's the first time the course has been offered in Gainesville, and Britte, Baker and Dawson County Sheriff's deputy Terry Wooten are the only three certified radKids instructors in the state north of Columbus.

The two Gainesville police officers spent a week of 12-hour days last year learning how to teach the course.

Britte has extensive experience working with children, from his role as a school resource officer liaison to his work in the juvenile courts.

"I love it," he said. "It's so rewarding."

Gainesville Police Chief Frank Hooper said the radKids program took on a new timeliness in light of a recent attempted child abduction in South Hall that made headlines this month.

Hooper decided to fund the course through his department's budget after researching the nonprofit, Massachusetts-based organization. It joins the police department's Drug Abuse Resistance Education and anti-gang programs for children.

"I think this is a good proactive step," Hooper said. "The biggest thing I hope they take away from it is to be aware of your surroundings and know you don't have to be a victim."

As of Thursday, four slots remained for the first class of 12 students. Britte predicts the class will quickly have a waiting list for future quarters.

Registration is $10 and is limited to Gainesville residents due to space considerations. For more information, contact the police department at (770) 531-2660.

Contact: sgurr@gainesvilletimes.com, (770) 718-3428


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