Monday, October 21, 2013

Thanks, Dallas Police

     Right before I began to draft this post, I did one of my quick checks of There was the breaking news banner--2 killed in shooting at a Reno, Nevada middle school. I sighed, feeling a mix of relief because such incidents still sadden me, but anger that they no longer shock me. But it's also a stark reminder of my intent in writing this piece even before seeing this news. I want to thank our security people, who are off-duty Dallas police officers.
     We actually have been using these officers for several years now. It began because of an unfortunate family situation. At first, we had an officer here only when circumstances seemed to warrant it.Now we have one here daily, and they have become a fixture on campus. Just as I expect St. John's employees to embody our mission, these officers truly protect and serve.
     They do all the things that one would expect. Patrol the campus and watch the perimeter. Keep a careful eye on students at recess, during the parade to and from chapel, and in the cafeteria. They stand outside the sanctuary when so many people are gathered for chapel. They help traffic flow at carpool. They make sure visitors have signed in.
     But they go beyond doing their mere duty. They have embraced the school and feel very connected to us. I'm sure we are a welcome relief to their regular interactions. We have benefited in some obvious ways. They keep us informed about any situations that could affect us, such as when helicopters were circling in the area a few months back and the officer let us know what precautions to take. When we had some trespassers repeatedly using our soccer field during off-hours, chasing them away was easier. One was able to do a complete security audit for us, and they do extra patrols at night. (This is also good for our neighbors.) I'm certain that in the event of a true emergency, police would respond extra quickly.
     One particular story captures their dedication. Without our prompting, a couple of the officers showed up in plain clothes at some end-of-year activities last year. They just wanted to make sure there were no problems. And they wanted to see the kids graduate!
     Like most schools, since the Newtown tragedy we've been reviewing all our security and emergency policies and procedures. We've always stressed safety--it's a regular agenda item at administrative meetings and reminders often go out to people--so in some ways it was a natural process. Still, it leads to a slippery balancing act. We want to create the safest possible environment, but we also want to maintain a warm and welcoming environment. I also see it as one of those implicit curriculum issues that can teach kids important lessons, often indirectly.
     In this case, I hope the officers' positive presence helps to shape our students' perception of the police. And I hope it's the polar opposite of mine when I was in elementary school. I was born in 1961, so I grew up often hearing police officers referred to as "pigs" amid cries against the establishment. On tv I saw protesters often in violent conflict with police. When I was just a bit older, I remember loving Peter Mass' book Serpico and assuming most cops were corrupt. I'm not sure when or why my perception shifted. Early adulthood, perhaps.
     I don't want students here to take that long to respect and value police. Without being scary, I want them to understand how these officers put themselves at risk for their community, the sacrifices they make to maintain civil order. In a way they fit right in as living exemplars of St. John's' emphasis on service. For that we are truly grateful.

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