No two days as a Mississippi State University campus police officer are ever the same, according to Sergeant Wesley Bunch.
Bunch's days are a mixture of everything one might expect from a police officer — responding to calls, working car crashes, writing tickets and the typical extra duties involved with being a day shift supervisor.
In addition to these tasks, Bunch and his fellow officer Sheyanne Dean have assigned themselves another important job: passing out stuffed animals to every child they see on campus.
They only started this about a month ago. An acquaintance of Bunch's, whom he met on the job, called him to discuss a problem — specifically, the multitude of stuffed animals taking up useful space in his home.
"He called me, and he's like, 'Man, I've got like hundreds of stuffed animals, and I have no idea what to do with them,'" Bunch said. "I told him I would take them."
Before coming to MSU to work on his masters, Bunch was a police officer in Gulfport, MS, where he was in the habit of keeping stuffed animals in the back of his squad car for any incidents involving children.
Bunch explained the toys were useful for distracting kids from the harsh surroundings often experienced on the job.
"Those were good for when you're dealing with any kind of incident where kids are involved — if it's some kind of very bad crash, where maybe the mom or the dad or whoever's kind of hurt pretty bad, and the kid's distraught," Bunch said. "Maybe you can take their attention away from it a little bit with one of those stuffed animals."
This is a less common scenario on a college campus, though, so Bunch and Dean sometimes have to seek children out.
Parents walking with strollers or children playing in the Junction are always a welcome sight to the officers.
As a K9 officer, Bunch occasionally relies on his partner, Bach, as an opening for the stuffed animal giveaways.
"I'll usually stop and talk for a minute, and a lot of times my dog barks from the back of my car," Bunch said. "I'll just kind of use that as a segue, like, 'Oh, look, you want a dog? I've got a dog for you.'"
Over the last month, the officers have handed out around 30 stuffed animals to kids, averaging three or four a day.
Because there are so many to go through, Bunch has offered some of the animals to his fellow officers, including off-campus cops, and told them how helpful the toys have proven for kids in traumatic situations.
Bunch said this act of service is important to him because of the current issues surrounding law enforcement and their portrayal in the media.
"I think everybody can turn on the news right now and see something about law enforcement, and it's not going to be positive," Bunch said. "It's important to me because there's a lot of positive things we do, but that's never what you hear about."
MSU Chief of Police Vance Rice said law enforcement can improve its image by performing outreach, like Sergeant Bunch and Officer Dean have been doing for kids on campus.
"That's the kind of thing that law enforcement has got to get back to doing on a regular basis, is the outreach," Rice said. "Things have not been going well for us. The public opinion has swung far to the negative, and it's not going to come back on its own."
The connection between police officers and citizens is one of the foundations of communities like Starkville. Mayor Lynn Spruill said outreach endeavors as easy as this one make a massive difference.
"The relationship between citizens and the police is fundamental to our ability to enjoy a safe and comfortable community," Spruill said. "This relationship begins from instilling a trust and faith in the police. This early contact with the police can be fostered by a simple gesture such as handing out stuffed animals. We are grateful for their efforts."
Bunch said he plans to continue giving away the animals until their excess has finally run out.
According to Rice, working with children is not an opportunity campus police often have, and he is glad to see his officers contributing to the community.
"Doing things like that and working with kids is not something we get to do very often as university officers," Rice said. "Most of our kids aren't really kids. I'm very proud of my officers for taking that opportunity."