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'Officer Friendly' teaches kids to beware of strangers

By Lucille deView / June 17, 1982

The motion picture flickers in the dim light of an elementary school classroom. It shows a happy scene - children playing baseball. Suddenly, a man who is watching tries to strike up a conversation with one of the players. The man talks baseball. Then he says a friend gave him a transistor radio. Wouldn't the boy like it? Wouldn't he come and look at it?

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The film stops. The lights go on. The Jacksonville police officer showing the film--he is known to the youngsters as Officer Friendly - asks the class: ''What would you do?''

Hands shoot up. The boys and girls give their ideas. A few relate similar instances of strangers approaching them. Then Officer Friendly starts the film again and the children hear the message: Don't talk to strangers. Don't accept anything. Tell the incident to an adult you know and trust.

The film, ''Better Safe Than Sorry,'' is part of the Danger-Stranger program presented each year to 100,000 Duval County schoolchildren in Florida by the four members of the Officer Friendly unit of the Jacksonville Police. Its aim is to give children an awareness of possible dangers and the courage to protect themselves.

''The children respond because the narrators are youngsters like themselves, '' says Sgt. Emmett Lee, coordinator of the Officer Friendly unit. ''The advice is practical and straight from the shoulder and it comes from their peers, not from an adult who tries to scare them or preach at them. It's something they can accept and relate to.''

The young narrators explain at the beginning of the film that the incidents to be shown don't happen very often but that as children get older, ''it's time for us to watch out for ourselves - to use our heads and think before we act.''

Some of the situations and the advice given:

* A man and woman in a car offer a ride, saying: ''We know your parents.'' Keep walking. Say, ''I'm sorry but my mom doesn't want me to take a ride from anyone.'' It's a hard choice. They seem like nice people--but ''better safe than sorry.'' Never get in a car. Never hitchhike.

* A car follows beside the curb as a youth walks along. Turn and walk the other way. If the car turns, too, go at once to a nearby store, house, people. Don't be afraid to ask for help. Don't go places alone. Go with a friend.

* At home when parents are away, someone phones and asks questions, supposedly for a survey: ''How old are you? Are you home alone?'' Never give out information to anyone you don't know. Never admit you are home alone. Never let anyone into the house. Before parents leave, ask for a number to call or place to go if you need help.

* A girl is shopping when a stranger comes up, talks nicely, puts an arm around her. This is not someone being friendly like parents or relatives. If grabbed, get away, scream, get help from clerks, shoppers. Don't be afraid to make a scene.

The film--from Film Fair Communications, 10900 Ventura Boulevard, Studio City , Calif. 91604 -- is shown by police and civic groups nationwide.