AURORA, Colo. (CBS4) – It’s a unique twist on a food pantry. For the Aurora Police Department, the pantry is a means of increasing communication between students and school resource officers.
“I just have them pick something out and just say, ‘hey come back and say hi’,” said Officer Mike Dziurgot with the Aurora Police Department.
While Dziurgot spent a majority of his career working in a gang unit, the last few years, he’s been trying to reach students as a school resource officer.
This is his third year with the largest school in the district. Rangeview High School has just under 2,200 students. Dziurgot has discovered a simple offer of food has the power to change the perception of many of the kids he sees.
“I think it’s an opportunity to just get to know kids you might not otherwise be able to get to know,” said Dziurgot.
He has seen the impact first-hand.
Brian Tran, a senior, says growing up, he never had positive experiences with police officers.
“None of the police officers actually helped me so that’s why I was nervous and shy to talk to police officers,” said Tran.
It was just last year Dziurgot approached him.
“So I decided to go down there and have a talk with him and he asked me, ‘do you want a snack?’”
The rest was history. Almost weekly, “Officer Mike” as he’s known, chats with Tran.
“I like how he protects us and sometimes I feel safe to go and talk to him if there’s any problem,” said Tran.
He says, thanks to Officer Mike, he’s now considering a career in law enforcement.
Tran is one of many students. In fact, Dziurgot is the SRO for the busiest school in the district. With about 2,200 kids enrolled, the conversations are not always easy. Which is why he likes to start with the food.
“So you’re not going to change things with the conversation right there. I mean, you talk to them, but you leave the door open for conversation and you allow them to get to know you,” Dziurgot said. “At least if they trust you they can bring that issue to you and a crime or something doesn’t go.”
The food pantry program is funded by the Aurora for Youth program, but much of the food donations come directly from officers, judges, spouses of employees and local churches.
It’s just one way APD is helping to shape the future of the kids in their community. While it may be small in comparison to other efforts by the district, it’s all part of a much bigger picture.
In 2013, the four-year graduation rate for all APS students was 52.6%. In 2018, the same rate was 76.5%.
The district has a strategic plan is called APS 2020 and outlines a vision for every student to shape a successful future.