TAMPA, Fla. -- They protect our streets, our schools, our community, and now, the Tampa Police Department is taking service one step further with a special mentoring program aimed at breaking down barriers between law enforcement officers and local youth.

  • Tampa PD joins 'Bigs in Blue' to mentor local youth
  • Program to break barriers between youth, law enforcement
  • 12 more Bay area agencies to join program

It’s all part of the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, “Bigs in Blue.” 

On top of protecting and serving her community, Tampa Police Captain Ashley Roberts spends an hour a week during the school year mentoring a Lanier Elementary 2nd grader named Abby.

"We read books together, we talk about what we did over the weekend, my family, her family -- we're just two peas in a pod," Captain Roberts said.

Captain Roberts and Abby talk about everything from school work to problems Abby may be having in class or at home.

"I always say: Do you need to speak to Miss Roberts? And miss Roberts is always there. If it's a text message, if it's a call, she's right there," Abby’s mom Ashley Dean said.

Program leaders say “Bigs in Blue” helps students understand tough issues.

"Whether it be shootings or disagreements over certain things and we just think that by connecting our community and starting with our children and police officers it helps break down barriers," Stephen Koch, President and CEO of Big Brothers Big Sisters Tampa Bay said.

It also lets students get to know the person behind the badge.

"The majority of the time when young people see the police, we're there to diffuse a situation, and unfortunately we have to be the bad guy so community events like this are very important to let them know we're there for them," Captain Roberts said.

"She is really generous to me and I'm really grateful and thankful that she's here right now," Abby said.

Tampa PD joined Bigs in Blue last year and was the first local agency to take part in it.

Big Brothers Big Sisters leaders said 12 more law enforcement agencies from seven different counties in the Bay Area will soon join the program.