L.E.A.D. National Instructor of the Year: Lt. Julie Ann Zeigler

L.E.A.D. (Law Enforcement Against Drugs & Violence), a nationwide nonprofit that works with communities to help students understand the dangers of drugs and violence, awarded “National Instructor of the Year” to Julie Ann Zeigler, a lieutenant at the Rutherford Police Department. The award was announced at L.E.A.D.’s Eighth Annual 21st Century Drug and Violence Prevention Training Conference in Atlantic City, New Jersey. It was presented to Lt. Zeigler for her excellent work growing the number of instructors teaching the proven effective curriculum implemented by the program and serving as the L.E.A.D. liaison between the school faculty and L.E.A.D. instructors in Rutherford.

Lt. Zeigler pictured with L.E.A.D. CEO Nick DeMauro, Chief at the Rutherford Police Department John Russo, and L.E.A.D.’s Mascot, L.E.O., with her “National Instructor of the Year” award

“Lt. Zeigler is an integral part of our family, and her award is well deserved,” said Nick DeMauro, CEO of L.E.A.D. “We’re confident that her instruction is helping us to achieve our goal of advancing police-community relationships. She’s allowing students to take away crucial life skills with them as they learn how to set goals, manage their emotions, and make good decisions while they grasp why steering clear of harmful substances, such as drugs and alcohol, is vital.”

L.E.A.D. provides services “On the Street” and “In the Classroom” as it brings law enforcement and communities closer together. The “In the Classroom” program is taught by 3800 trained instructors in 41 states. L.E.A.D. has a proven effective, law enforcement-focused anti–drug, anti–violence curriculum for K-12 students in the U.S. The L.E.A.D. curriculum is taught over the course of a 10-week program to educate youth on how they can make smart decisions without the involvement of drugs or violence.

Lt. Zeigler, the first female police officer in Rutherford, began teaching the program in 2014 after she gave a presentation to the Chief at the Rutherford Police Department, John Russo, on why she wanted their agency to switch from the prevention-based program that they were teaching at the time to L.E.A.D. Chief Russo wanted to help present the “National Instructor of the Year” award to Lt. Zeigler, so he attended the conference specifically for that reason.

“Lt. Zeigler has led the implementation of L.E.A.D. here in Rutherford, and the program has become a tremendous success and model for surrounding jurisdictions,” said Chief Russo. “I’ve had the pleasure to work alongside her for the last 25 years and the last 11 years as Chief, and she has proven time and again to be a leader, innovator, and educator, traits that have been most important in our commitment to L.E.A.D.”

In Rutherford, L.E.A.D. is taught to 250 sixth graders at Pierrepont School. The program is successful in bridging the gap between police forces and communities as it lets police officers engage with children in a safe environment during the school day, says Lt. Zeigler.

“The time spent with the kids in the classroom throughout the ten weeks leads to bonds that last a lifetime. The students I taught several years ago know me as Officer Julie as my ranks have changed throughout the years from police officer to sergeant and now lieutenant, and they still remember me to this day,” she said. “We also get the children’s parents engaged as our L.E.A.D. instructors attend back-to-school nights to walk them through the curriculum that their kids will be learning. The parents get to know us on a personal level and realize that we’re going to have an enduring impact on their children’s lives.”

There’s a large focus on problem-solving and learning to say no during the first few weeks of the program. Lt. Zeigler believes this aspect makes L.E.A.D. effective in preventing children from becoming involved with drugs, alcohol, and violence.

“Lessons one through five center around teaching the kids how to make an informed decision when faced with alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs, and lessons six through ten get into the actual harms of those substances, which is a perfect setup, in my opinion,” said Lt. Zeigler. “Additionally, the program doesn’t name specific drugs as research has shown that doing so would only encourage the youth to do their own research. Introducing a certain kind of drug to the children would make it seem like we’re normalizing it when we’re clearly trying to gear them away from it.”

Lt. Zeigler is retiring from the Rutherford Police Department in 2024 but says she will remain involved with the L.E.A.D. program after retirement.

“I was given an outstanding opportunity to become a Master Trainer for L.E.A.D. to share my expertise with police officers who proudly serve their communities nationwide, and I plan to continue this role when I enter retirement to keep growing the number of instructors teaching the program,” said Lt. Zeigler. “I also plan to help with the youth fests and carnivals that the organization hosts during the summer in New Jersey and keep up with teaching the digital threat assessment course, also known as DTA, that L.E.A.D. now offers. L.E.A.D. is a phenomenal program, and I don’t plan on ending my involvement with them anytime soon.”

About L.E.A.D.

L.E.A.D. provides the leadership, resources, and management to ensure law enforcement agencies have the means to partner with educators, community leaders, and families. L.E.A.D. succeeds by providing proven, effective programs to deter youth and adults from drug use, drug-related crimes, bullying, and violence. L.E.A.D. is committed to reinforcing mutual respect, goodwill, and relations between law enforcement and their communities.

For more information on L.E.A.D., please visit www.leadrugs.org