Officer Dylan Marston with Perkins students
Making a Difference: The San Diego Harbor Police Foundation
“Hi, Officer Marston,” a little boy shouts as he hangs on the monkey bars at Perkins K-8 School in Barrio Logan. Soon, students from all corners of the playground gather around the smiling officer wearing a crisp blue uniform. The San Diego Harbor Police Foundation (SDHPF) and officers with the Port of San Diego Harbor Police regularly visit the campus, where 90% of students and their families live below the poverty line, and nearly 40% sleep in nearby shelters or in cars. Relationships blossom with outings such as Fish with a Cop, and Shop with a Cop during the holidays. “We’ve built an ongoing, positive relationship with the kids because we want them to know that the community cares about them and their success in school,” said Jeff Wohler, President and CEO of SDHPF.
In addition to contributing to a food pantry, the foundation runs an after school program called Teachers RUL (Relationship, Unity, Love), its proactive response to student reading comprehension scores that nose-dived during the pandemic. Two afternoons a week volunteers come to campus with healthy snacks and an eagerness to help students improve their reading skills. The foundation recently hosted a recognition ceremony for 17 students who earned straight As. Family members and teachers cheered as each student received a certificate and $50 with the message that hard work and good grades can lead to scholarships and opportunities for a bright future. The foundation has also replaced broken down furniture in four classrooms for students with special needs. Research shows that wiggle chairs, therapy rockers and marker board tables promote learning.
SDHPF’s support of under-served youth is just one of three pillars that define a wide breadth of work in the community. The foundation commits significant resources to combating human trafficking in San Diego, the second largest crime behind drug trafficking. The foundation cares deeply about victims of this horrific crime, and as a result created in depth training called ‘Help Stop Human Trafficking’ for San Diego’s tourism industry. Employees at hotels and motels, the airport, and restaurants and bars take the free training online to learn how to spot potential incidents of human trafficking and alert authorities. A team of experts, including a Survivor who was trafficked at age 14, facilitates the training on-site at local tourism businesses. Sycuan Casino held two sessions for its security staff and shortly after invited the team back to train additional frontline employees. “We are making efforts on our property, with the help of the San Diego Harbor Police Foundation, to play an active role in mitigating these crimes,” said Cody Martinez, Chairman of the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation.
The foundation will soon unveil a ‘soft interview room’ at San Diego International Airport. The calming decor and comfortable furniture create a soothing space where officers can assist victims who have experienced abuse or trauma. The foundation also paid for 14 officers to undergo specialized training on how to handle these sensitive cases.
The foundation’s third pillar focuses on officer wellness, at a time when police agencies are struggling to fill positions and build morale. The foundation steps in whenever it sees a need: Delivering thousands of masks during the pandemic, and hundreds of meals and snacks during high-intensity events and extended shifts. The foundation has revamped the officers’ lounge, called the ‘Collision Space,’ with fresh paint and new furniture, and a high-end coffee vending machine rivals Starbucks with its wide range of hot beverage selections - all free to officers and staff. Officers who workout before or after their shifts are enjoying a new weight system, and rousing competitions at the new ping pong table. “We support individual officers as well, as they deal with the stress of the job. Our men and women in uniform, and dispatchers come first,” Wohler says.
SDHPF was founded in 2019 by Wohler and former Port of San Diego Harbor Police Chief Mark Stainbrook. The foundation held its inaugural fundraising gala on Friday, June 16. The Present & Proud Gala, presented by Ally Insurance and sponsored by the Gary Sinise Foundation, is a symbolic roll call in honor of officers, students, and guests. The event was held at Coasterra restaurant on the San Diego Bay waterfront, the perfect spot for guests to view a demonstration of the Harbor Police fire boats which are equipped to pump huge volumes of water from the bay and extinguish vessel fires. The evening included silent and live auctions, dinner, and entertainment.
To learn more about the Present & Proud Gala or to buy tickets go to https://www.sdharborpolicefoundation.org/present-proud-gala
Printed in the July 2023 issue of Simply Local Magazine San Diego