AIKEN -- Pregnant moms in Aiken have a friend in the beat officer who patrols their neighborhoods.
And this unique Moms & Cops program, sponsored by the Aiken Department of Public Safety, recently won a 1998 Innovations in Law Enforcement award from the South Carolina Sheriff's Association.
It was recognized as among the seven most innovative police programs in the state.
Other departments recognized were the Beaufort Police Department, Charleston County Sheriff's Office, Greer Police Department, Myrtle Beach Police Department and the Richland County Sheriff's Department.
The City of North Augusta was also honored for its Traffic School: A Community Youth Enrichment Program.
Young drivers who are stopped for minor offenses such as failure to yield right of way or failure to obey traffic signals attend a four-hour class taught by road patrol officers. They also do eight hours of community service and sign a contract with their parents prior to starting the program.
There were only 18 total entrants but "there were a few that the judges said were extraordinary, and Aiken's was one of those," said Debra Covington, director of training at the South Carolina Sheriff's Association.
"The people of Aiken should be very proud of this kind of innovation from their public safety department," she said.
Moms & Cops was one of the reasons Aiken was selected in 1997 as an All-America City.
All seven awards will be handed out at The Innovations Conference on Nov. 17 at the South Carolina State Museum in Columbia. Each winning agency will give a 30-minute presentation and take questions from peers attending the conference.
Ms. Covington said, "The purpose is to both recognize significant innovation that improves police work, but also to spread those great ideas around so that other agencies can take advantage of them."
Other agencies in the state and around the country can copy any of these programs for their own communities, she said.
The Moms & Cops program is a mission of the public safety department but was started in 1994 in conjunction with the Growing Into Life initiative.
Growing Into Life began as a community task force that brought area agencies, service groups and businesses together to address issues of infant mortality, teen pregnancy, child abuse and neglect, and to promote healthy lifestyles.
It is funded by United Way and the Department of Health and Environmental Control.
Public safety officers are trained by DHEC nurses on the basics of prenatal care. While walking their beats, the police get to know people in the neighborhoods, including moms-to-be.
In cases where prenatal care appears insufficient, the officers step in to help out. They arrange for doctor's appointments, consult with DHEC nurses and in some cases drive the women to their appointments.
Since 1989, the county's infant mortality rate has been cut in half, according to Karen Papouchado, coordinator for Growing Into Life.
"We certainly credit the Moms & Cops grass-roots initiative for a significant part of that decrease," Mrs. Papouchado said. "Women in these policing areas are also seeking more information about pregnancy issues, and that goes to the heart of the matter."
David "Chico" Nieves is one of the officers in the program and helped get the project up and going.
He said the key is making friends with the women.
"If they miss an appointment, the doctor's office calls us and we go back and we say, `Oh, I heard you missed your appointment,"' he said. "And we take them down there to the doctor."
"A lot of times these are young women who are afraid and don't know what to do," Officer Nieves said. "We show them some concern and we show them we are trying to help and we let them know there is somebody who cares."