When it comes to community relations, the Reynoldsburg Division of Police is hoping to be a trailblazer that develops programs other departments want to emulate.

The department has already begun holding quarterly open forums at which police Chief Jim O'Neill and other members of the force discuss issues of concern and answer questions from residents.

Other plans include the fall launch of a ride-along program for high school juniors and seniors and the formation of a Community Advisory Panel whose members will be announced at the next open forum, scheduled at 7 p.m. on March 28 at Reynoldsburg High School, 6699 E. Livingston Ave. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.

"We are trying to get the community more involved with the police department," Community Resource Officer Tony Hines said.

He said the Community Advisory Panel would help the department reach more people.

"We put a nine-person panel together that includes a high school student, high school teacher, someone from the chamber of commerce, two pastors and a city councilman," he said. "You take that group of people and you will reach a lot of other people."

Mayor Brad McCloud said he is pleased to promote the quarterly forums.

"These forums are an ongoing effort to have full and open communication with our citizens," he said. "There are a host of complex issues impacting police departments across the country and these forums are opportunities to exchange ideas and concerns that are paramount to both police and citizens."

Hines said he, O'Neill and police chaplain Terry McKittrick will talk about the new advisory group at the March 28 forum. Other topics will include the epidemic use of opioids, what people should and should not do when they are approached by a police officer, and anything else brought up by residents.

"We will stick to our traditional open-discussion format and any and all topics will be addressed if the questions arise," Hines said.

The inspiration for the ride-along program that will start in the fall was a visit Hines made to a high school English class. (HS)2 Academy senior Brandon Sheline said that presentation "changed his life."

Slated to join the Marine Corps after graduation, Sheline asked Hines if he could do a ride-along because he had questions about becoming a police officer. After spending four hours in a cruiser, he now he wants to major in criminal justice and become a police officer.

"The ride-along changed my perception of what a police officer does," he said. "Especially with everything that is going on with the news, people need to understand police officers are good guys. They're here to help."

Hines, the department's recruitment officer, said the high school program would be open to juniors and seniors at both RHS campuses. It would offer ride-alongs as well as training courses in fingerprinting, self-defense, firearm safety and evidence collection.

To be eligible, students must be 18 years old or, if they are 17, they need parental consent. They must earn passing grades in 90 percent of their classes and have no disciplinary record.

"The goal is to give guidance to students who would like more information about a career in criminal justice," Hines said.