Just as there are some casino games that are individual games (for example, Ripper Casino bonuses), other casino games are more social (in-person poker). The same can be said about sports. Some sports games are more social (football, basketball, baseball, hockey, soccer). While other sports games are more individual (ice skating, golf).
When talking about kids (and people in general), sports has a huge positive impact on people. It is not just about the physical body and its display to the observer who watches, but it is also about learning how to work together as a team, discipline, learning to follow instructions, learning that sometimes you are the leader and sometimes you are the follower, and other simple things like friendship and the happiness a person feels when they look in the stands and see a parent or a loved one looking back at them smiling with pride regardless of if their team wins or loses.
So what does all of this have to do with public safety and police officers?
If you want to prevent mass school shootings and “to prevent cops from shooting innocent people”, “defunding the police”, taking the police out of schools, and making schools “gun-free zones” is not the answer.
I don’t have all of the answers. I just know what I have observed in Highland Park, NJ and what worked in that community. First, I am going to talk about the police officers in general. Then I will talk about how it relates to sports and teens.
Youth Police Officers and Community Outreach Police Officers
In Highland Park, NJ starting in May 2015, they hired a Youth Police Officer – Community Outreach Police Officer.
Here are the requirements for a basic police officer:
- Citizen of the United States
- Good health
- Able to read, write, and speak English
- Good moral character and no criminal offenses
- Between 21 and 35 years of age
- Valid NJ Driver’s License
- Pass medical examination, personal background check, psychological examination, complete a drug and alcohol screening
- Oral interview
That is it. Not even a high school diploma is listed as a requirement. But with a Youth Police officer, it is different.
The Youth Police Officer hired by Highland Park, NJ, also had a BS Degree in Child Psychology.
The main purpose of the Youth Police officer was to interact with the youth in the community and do the general community outreach for the community. At first, there were people who had a negative reaction to this person. This was right around the time of the Ferguson Riot and Ferguson Unrest (2014-2015).
Schools should be “gun free zones” including the police
Criminals are lazy. That is why they are criminals. If they were not lazy, they would study hard in school, get an education, and have career options besides being a criminal.
If you have a row of cars, and 9 of them have obvious car alarms (or even the steering wheel lock), and one does not, which car do you think is going to get broken into and/or stolen? The one without the obvious car alarm or steering wheel lock because it is the easiest target. That is also why most criminals commit crimes in their own neighborhoods because they are too lazy to go out into other neighborhoods.
When a school board broadcasts to the public, “This school is a gun-free zone. No staff members are allowed to carry any weapons on school property, and we do not even allow the police and security officers to carry weapons on school grounds,” what you are telling criminals is that your school is an easy target.
That a criminal can come into your school, kill as many people as they want, and there will be zero resistance. And (using Uvalde, Texas as an example), it can take as long as an hour for the police to respond and take the criminal out. Nobody does a mass school shooting unless they want to do a “suicide by cop”.
“Suicide by cop or suicide by police is a suicide method in which a suicidal individual deliberately behaves in a threatening manner, with intent to provoke a lethal response from a public safety or law enforcement officer.” (Wikipedia)
Nobody shoots up a school and expects to get out of there alive. A criminal is not going to get a “George Floyd Parade” for getting shot by a cop after shooting up a bunch of kids in an elementary school. Not even criminals are that stupid. And even if the criminal did somehow make it into jail, they are looking at a lifetime of being other criminals’ playthings. Even criminals have their morals were shooting up an elementary school full of children is off-limits.
The school district does not have the budget to provide full time police in every school
That is a valid argument. Not to mention that most schools do not need (or want) full-time police every second of the day. In Highland Park, NJ they did a random rotation between their three schools. On any given day, the youth police officer would randomly walk through the school.
There was no set schedule, so nobody (not even the police or the school principals) knew on any particular day or at any particular time if an armed police officer would or would not be on the physical school grounds. Not to mention it would take less than 5 minutes for this police officer to travel from one school to another.
On top of that, every school crossing guard had a cell phone, where they had the phone numbers to every other school crossing guard and the police. The school crossing guards were technically hired by the police.
So if the crossing guard saw something suspicious (someone staking out the school), they could quickly notify all of the other school crossing guards and the police.
If you want to make things even more secure, include the homeowners (and renters) that live right around the school. They know what is normal and expected and what it unusual. A simple Whatsapp group would work.
Police wearing uniforms and carrying guns is traumatic for kids
Yes, a police officer wearing a full uniform is intimidating. They are supposed to be intimidating and authoritarian looking. In Highland Park, NJ, the police had two sets of uniforms.
One was the traditional police uniform. The other was a white polo shirt that had POLICE on the back and the police logo on the front. When the police were doing community outreach (for example, the year community wide block party), or walking through schools, or attending school board or city council meetings, this informal uniform was what they wore.
The police officer still had a gun, and it was still obvious they were police officers, but they also gave an impression of being welcoming and somebody you could informally approach.
Making contact with kids before they got into trouble
This was probably the most important thing the youth police officer did. He made contact with the youths before they “got in trouble with the police”, which hopefully, prevented them from ever making contact with the police in an official capacity.
This included the youth police officer going to kids’ sports practice and going to their games to cheer them on. The youth police officer is not replacing a parent. They are just providing another adult in the child’s life that a child can go to when they need “adult help”.
But most of all, Highland Park Police had a S.A.F.E. Program (Secure Awareness for First Encounters), forms and instructions. This was a form that a person can register (voluntarily) with the police for somebody who has issues (communication impairment, autism, or social/emotional challenges) that can interfere with the person’s ability to self-regulate during high stress situations. The family member fills out a form with a current picture to the police, so if a person has an encounter with the police, the police will know “to expect the unexpected” and the police will have a better understanding of what is “normal” for this person, which may not be normal for a “normal” person.
“An ounce of prevention is worth a pond of cure” — and encouraging kids to participate in sports is a starting point.