There’s a new mascot in town - Eddie Eagle.

Eddie Eagle, who promotes gun safety, has teamed up with fellow mascots Ready Fox and McGruff the Crime Dog to form a specialized, kid-friendly team for the Ellis County Sheriff’s Office.

The trio - along with crime prevention deputy Larry Cheek - will spearhead efforts by the sheriff’s office to promote crime prevention and other safety-related measures.

“We go to schools, we go to churches, we visit PTOs,” Cheek said of the crime prevention office’s varied activities. “We’ll set up at Wal-Mart, we give DWI, Stranger Danger and bicycle safety programs. We do a lot of work with Cub Scouts and we visit a lot of schools.”

Cheek couldn’t be happier with the addition of Eddie Eagle, the result of a winning application to the National Rifle Association’s GunSafe Program mascot costume competition in Texas.

The Ellis County Sheriff’s Office received the Eddie Eagle costume at no cost, with the mascot to be used to aid in gun accident prevention efforts with children.

Cheek said he had to submit an essay as part of the application.

“It surprised me when we won,” he said. “But now that I got it, I’m going to use it.”

The sheriff’s office’s other mascots, Ready Fox and McGruff the Crime Dog, focus on 911 and crime prevention, respectively, with Cheek saying those interested in having a program can contact him at 972-824-4901.

“Call us and we’ll go,” he said, suggesting people call in advance as the calendar books quickly. “I do something every day.”

Cheek believes the mascots help get the crime prevention and safety messages through to children, especially the younger ones.

The mascots are a popular draw at any event, with kids always wanting their photographs taken with them, if possible. Along with informational brochures, Cheek said he also tries to have little items to pass out to children, such as coloring books, pens and keychains.

“Whatever I can come up with, I get it to give out,” he said.

Besides the messages they deliver, the mascots also help serve as faces for the sheriff’s office’s public relations efforts.

“You can see us at events all over,” Cheek said. “We’ll visit with from 60,000 to 70,000 people a year just through events.”

The mascots, which typically are manned by a reserve deputy, are always escorted by a deputy at any event.

“It’s a lot of fun,” said Cheek, who’s headed up the sheriff’s office’s crime prevention efforts for four years.

Launched in 1988, Eddie Eagle was created by past NRA President Marion P. Hammer, in consultation with child psychologists, elementary school teachers and law enforcement officers. The program teaches children in pre-kindergarten through the third grade the following safety message: “If you see a gun: Stop! Don’t Touch. Leave the Area. Tell an Adult.”

Since its inception, more than 26,000 law enforcement officers, schoolteachers and community safety leaders have taught the program to more than 20 million young children.

Since 1996, the NRA has made Eddie Eagle mascot costumes available to law enforcement agencies, with a press release from the organization noting, “The costume helps capture children’s attention during presentations and leaves a lasting positive impression.”

The Eddie Eagle GunSafe program started more than three years ago in the Ellis County area after many people were moving in with concealed handguns, said Cheek, who welcomes the addition of the mascot costume.

“We plan on using the costume to teach children and the community the importance of gun safety,” Cheek said. “We also plan to use Eddie Eagle in parades and in other public places, letting the citizens know who Eddie Eagle is and what he represents to the public.”

NRA officials note the Eddie Eagle program has been praised by numerous groups and elected officials, including the Association of American Educators, the Youth Activities Division of the National Safety Council, the National Sheriffs’ Association, the U.S. Department of Justice (through its Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency), 26 state governors and 23 state legislatures.

Since the Eddie Eagle Program was launched, the annual number of firearm-related deaths among children of the program’s age group declined more than 80 percent, according to the organization, which cites accident prevention programs such as Eddie Eagle as a significant factor in that decline.

The Eddie Eagle costume represents a $2,650 value for the Ellis County Sheriff’s Office and was made possible through a contribution by the North Texas Friends of NRA.

“Thanks to the support of Friends of NRA, around the country, 22 costumes have been donated through this contest to law enforcement agencies since 2001,” according to the press release. “The NRA encourages citizens nationwide to participate in heightening gun accident prevention awareness within their local communities.”

On the Internet

www.nrahq.org/safety/eddie

www.nrafoundation.org/friends

E-mail JoAnn at editor@waxahachiedailylight.com