The Beaufort Police Department is getting ready to begin another summer of bringing together its officers and area children.
Registration begins this week for the department's summer movie club, which meets each Saturday at the Plaza 8 Movie Theater on Robert Smalls Parkway beginning Saturday through July 16. The club allows more than 200 children to join officers for a free movie and safety education.
The program was started in 1975 by longtime police chief Jesse Altman at Cinema 1, also known as the Breeze Theater on Bay Street.
Before joining the city's police force, former chief Jeff Dowling worked at the theater and witnessed the program's inception and its impact on the officers and the children.
"This was back before we had VCRs or anything like that," said Dowling, now a member of the Beaufort County Sheriff's Office. "Going to the movies back then was a big deal because you couldn't just watch them at home. A lot of those kids had never even been to the movies. I think (Altman) really wanted to be in touch with the community and show these kids that these officers were moms and dads like anyone else."
When Dowling became police chief in 2000, it was a given that the program would continue, he said.
"I'd go down here on Saturdays and see how the movie club was doing," Dowling said. "It was great. The officers did a great job with the program and with those kids."
The program remains popular among area children, their parents and the city's police officers, said Beaufort Police Chief Matt Clancy.
"The club usually fills up pretty quickly once registration starts," Clancy said. "We've had parents who went to the movie club as kids that are now taking their children to the movie club on Saturdays.
"As an officer, you get to meet the kids and give them a chance to have a real connection with a police officer. They see that you're a real person. It really prevents those barriers (between children and the officers) from going up."
Clancy said the department typically spends about $1,700 a year on the movie program, which includes free T-shirts, prizes for the children and the cost of showing the movies.