Marisa Lawrence Is Stafford Township Police’s Newest DARE Officer

Apr 04, 2018
Supplied Photo Stafford Township Police Officer Marisa Lawrence gathers with Chris Fritz after she completed the training to become the department's newest DARE officer on March 23.

The road toward police work wasn’t the initial one Marisa Lawrence took after graduating from Southern Regional High School in 2002.

“Originally, I wanted to be a gym teacher,” said Lawrence, who was hired by the Stafford Township Police Department in August 2008. “Fitness is a huge part of my life, and teaching always seemed to fit right in with that for me. But even that wasn’t set in stone.”

One day, years after graduating, Lawrence was at Retro Fitness in Manahawkin when several individuals had mentioned to her that the Stafford Police Department soon would be testing and hiring more officers.

“That got my wheels going,” said Lawrence, a former gymnast for then-coach Mary Frack’s Southern squad. “I had heard the fitness test was tough and that many women didn’t get through it, but I believed I could pass. It was a grueling process to become an officer, but it worked out.”

Now in her 10th year with the department, Lawrence sought to add another role to her work – becoming a member of the DARE team, led by Chris Fritz.

“We are proud to announce that on Friday, March 23, Officer Marisa Lawrence graduated from DARE Officer Training,” Fritz said in statement released to the media on March 28. “She will become the fourth active member of the Stafford Township Police Department qualified to instruct the DARE program, reaffirming our commitment to our youth.”

Since joining the force, Lawrence said, helping the community’s youngsters through the DARE program always seemed to be a likely option.

“It’s a bit personal to me because I lost my sister to a heroin overdose when I was a senior in high school,” she said. “It was something that’s always been in the back of my mind.”

Becoming a mother also had a part in developing her mind for the added role.

“From a mother perspective, when I was going through the training, I see those kids as my own kids,” she said. “I can imagine my kids going through the program, and what that interaction and instruction can do for them.”

And that’s much of the DARE program’s focus – connecting with young people within the community and developing positive relationships.

“The Stafford Township Police Department has been presenting DARE to our schools’ fifth-grade students for nearly 30 years in the Stafford School District, All Saints Regional Catholic School and the Southern Regional School District,” Fritz said. “The rapport our officers have developed with these students over the years has been a critical component of our successful Community Policing initiative. The DARE curriculum has evolved and transformed over the years to remain current and provides our kids with additional tools to resist peer pressure, cope with stress and be confident student leaders.”

Lawrence can’t wait to get into the schools and start helping the community’s youth in a new way.

“I learned so much from the training, and I’m looking forward to bringing that into the classrooms,” she said. “A huge part of the program is about connecting with kids, building trusting relationships with them and letting them get to know you. As DARE officers, one of our roles is to help them identify problems and find solutions to get them through those problems. It’s about relating to them and helping them. It’s an important role, and I’m glad to be part of it.”

— David Biggy

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