Solon’s newest DARE officer is no stranger to the youth of the community.
As a 19-year driver with the Solon Police Department, William DiGiovanni, 45, often finds himself surrounded by young people, whether he patrols all summer with a cooler full of ice cream or pulls over. to talk to children. in various playgrounds and swimming pools in the city.
The needs of young people in the community have always been close to his heart, he said, and he is proud of the relationships he has forged with them and of being “100%” accessible to them.
So when the opening for a DARE Officer position for Solon Schools became available during the recent retirement of Officer JoAnn Felton, it suited the perfect fit.
“I can easily relate to the children,” said Mr. DiGiovanni, better known to young people as “Agent Billy D.” Cubs and Youth Wrestling.
In fact, the father of three boys said with a warm smile that he was a big kid himself.
As a result, Mr. DiGiovanni is known to bring humor – and even an element of entertainment – to his role in schools, where he teaches the drug resistance education program to students, primarily in seventh grade. year.
“When I was in school in sixth grade in the 1980s, we had to watch a video of Mr. T on peer pressure and do a worksheet,” he said. “There was a song like this in my head for over 20 years now and I’m playing it for kids.
“They don’t know Mr. T, but they are laughing,” said Mr. DiGiovanni, a resident of North Royalton. “It’s a fun learning tool. “
While still developing his own program in relation to DARE, Mr DiGiovanni said he does a lot of role-playing and basic conversations to bring valuable lessons to the fore.
“Basically the DARE program is a communications program,” he said. “Over the years, they realized that the ‘just say no’ style wasn’t effective, so it evolved into its modern form which essentially teaches young people communication skills when they are under pressure. “
He teaches when to say no, not just to drugs and alcohol, but everything that is unsafe, he added.
“We talk a lot,” said Mr. DiGiovanni, while learning assertive means of communication.
Mr. DiGiovanni also tells many stories to children as examples.
“I always feel like I have a story that really happened within the community involving someone his age or a little older,” he said. “Once I start telling them a true story, they’re in it.
“They’ll even ask me, ‘Do you have a history with this? “”
Mr. DiGiovanni cited the many issues that affect young people these days, such as vaping.
“Vaping is definitely an emerging trend that college students are surprisingly unfamiliar with,” he said. “Everyone knows about cigarettes or the dangers of cigarette smoke, but since vaping is new and ads and social media haven’t caught up, they have a ton of questions.
“It’s surprising that they don’t recognize that it’s so dangerous,” he said.
In class, Mr. DiGiovanni also does a lot of animation, he continued.
“I’ll come up with a problem and then they’ll try to solve it,” he said. “I will accompany them throughout this process.
“It’s really great,” added Mr. DiGiovanni. “The more I get better, it’s very cool.”
In addition to his role as a DARE officer, Mr. DiGiovanni is also the department’s juvenile officer within the detectives office and is the first to take on the dual role.
“It’s a challenge,” he said of the double position, “but something I wanted to do.
“I think DARE is such an important tool for community relations,” he said. “It is priceless.”
As a city-wide juvenile agent, any case involving juveniles falls on his desk, DiGiovanni said.
“I contact parents or teachers if it is a school problem,” he said. “I have an idea of the situation. “
The case usually goes to Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court with a recommendation, often to the diversion process, he said.
“I am very honored to hold this position and take it seriously,” said Mr. DiGiovanni. “I have always felt indebted to the City of Solon for hiring me.”
Prior to his employment with the Solon Department, Mr. DiGiovanni worked as a Correctional Officer in downtown Cleveland. His grandfather, who bears the same name, was also a police officer in the service of the town of Shaker Heights.
“The new position is a challenge and I am still meeting those challenges,” he added of DARE’s role. “It’s very humiliating.”