Elementary students treated to movie, gifts at DeKalb police event

DeKalb County police Chief Mirtha Ramos helps Josiah Owens as the Police Athletic League hosted a "Movie with a Cop" event at the Movie Tavern in Tucker. PHIL SKINNER, FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

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DeKalb County police Chief Mirtha Ramos helps Josiah Owens as the Police Athletic League hosted a "Movie with a Cop" event at the Movie Tavern in Tucker. PHIL SKINNER, FOR THE ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION

In Santa T-shirts, reindeer ears and face masks, 46 elementary students from DeKalb County streamed off school buses and piled into a movie theater in Tucker last week.

They sat in plushy seats and waited for plates of chicken tenders or pizza, along with the traditional popcorn and soda movie fare, before tucking in as the room turned dark. Their waiters for this special Friday-before-the-holidays treat: DeKalb County police officers.

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Police Chief Mirtha Ramos (left) and Detective Khary Ricksetts help pass out food during the community outreach event.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Police Chief Mirtha Ramos (left) and Detective Khary Ricksetts help pass out food during the community outreach event.

Credit: Phil Skinner

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Police Chief Mirtha Ramos (left) and Detective Khary Ricksetts help pass out food during the community outreach event.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

The police department hosted the students for a special viewing of the Disney animated flick “Encanto.” For many, it was their first field trip since school resumed in-person. For others, it was their first time back in a movie theater since 2020′s lockdown.

It was an experience DeKalb police Chief Mirtha Ramos said her officers wanted to share with the children, who came from nine schools and were selected by their teachers as a reward for academic achievement or improvement. More than a holiday gift-giving event, Ramos said it was an opportunity to build relationships.

“A lot of times you can give them a gift bag and send them on their way,” Ramos said. “This is really more about interaction.”

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Harmony Raji (from left), Officer Dashawn Thomas and Keius Upshaw chat during Friday's event.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Harmony Raji (from left), Officer Dashawn Thomas and Keius Upshaw chat during Friday's event.

Credit: Phil Skinner

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Harmony Raji (from left), Officer Dashawn Thomas and Keius Upshaw chat during Friday's event.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

The department’s Police Athletic League Plus (PAL Plus) unit planned the event with the help of several community sponsors, including Dick’s Sporting Goods, which ensured the students didn’t leave the theater empty-handed. An after-credits Zoom call with NBA legend Shaquille O’Neal was the cherry on top.

“It means a whole lot, to let them know they are not here to just lock people up, but they are also here to help and serve the community,” said paraprofessional Jazzmen Fannin, who chaperoned a group from Oak View Elementary School. “Every time you turn on the news all you see is police shootings or something of that nature. For them to actually engage in the community with the kids, they are giving them a better view.”

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Eight-year-old Marco Espino gets ready for the movie to start.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Eight-year-old Marco Espino gets ready for the movie to start.

Credit: Phil Skinner

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Eight-year-old Marco Espino gets ready for the movie to start.

Credit: Phil Skinner

Credit: Phil Skinner

Zoey Hunter, a Flat Shoals Elementary student who recently turned 11, was apprehensive about coming to the movies. An officer’s joke about her “cool jacket” quickly put her at ease, she said.

“I’m just going to be by myself, watching a movie with the police,” Zoey said of her fears. “There’s going to be nobody to talk to.”

After a fun Friday outing, Zoey said there is only one thing remaining on her Christmas bucket list: “A doughnut maker!”

Another Flat Shoals student, 8-year-old Harmony Raji, said the event was “all we could talk about this week, waiting to come here.”

Ramos hopes these are the start of trusting relationships between law enforcement and DeKalb County kids. The PAL Plus unit hopes to invite more children to movie screenings in the new year.

“What we really want them to know is that we are here for them,” the police chief said. “There’s an issue, there’s a problem, they don’t know who to turn to, I want them to feel comfortable turning to us. The reality is we want every child to know they are never alone.”