Mobile, Alabama – Murphy High School JROTC Military Leadership Academy participated in the Mobile County Federal Bureau of Investigation – Bridging the Gap Program at the Mobile County Metro Range January 28, 2022, to create a partnership between local community schools and law enforcement.
“The program is designed to build positive relationships between law enforcement and the youth in our communities. Through interactive scenarios, group discussions and demonstrations, the program equips students with a better understanding of how their behavior during encounters with police may affect the way police officers respond,” said Stacey Jessee, FBI Community Outreach Coordinator.
“We want to know what your concerns are and express to you more about expectations when encountering officers,” said Curtis Grove, Mobile Police Department Director of Strategic Initiatives.
“When you leave here today you will understand why police use lethal force the way they do,” said Tommy Loftis, FBI Public Affairs Specialist.
These lessons were taught through multiple stations, which high school students in various grades 9th through 12th rotated through after a brief welcome by representatives from the U.S. Attorney’s Office, FBI and MPD:
1. Traffic stop – speeding or a parking light out. 2. Loitering – gang violence or drug dealing. 3. Domestic dispute – neighbors arguing loudly. 4. Firearm simulator – responding to a commercial or residential alarm.
A bomb squad simulation was the final activity of the day, which was followed by a round table discussion over complimentary pizza from the FBI – Bridging the Gap program.
In all the collaborative situation’s officers and JROTC student cadets learned life experiences from each scenario.
“You have to think before you act because your choices may have terrible consequences if you don’t evaluate your actions carefully,” said Kamoria Jackson, MHS cadet.
MPD officers set up a traffic stop demonstration in which a licensed vehicle operator was pulled over to the side of the road for investigation of a possible traffic violation. MPD Officer B. Light had student cadets to roll play in the incident. Students acted as the driver of a vehicle in a scenario where everything went right and another where everything went wrong. Afterwards, the students and the officer discussed the potential response from both parties involved.
This was a teaching point for many of the students who were also encouraged to become law enforcement student ambassadors.
“When you get pulled over by the police, do not get out of the car. Go ahead and roll the window down, turn the music down and put your hands on the steering wheel. This is not the time to petition to file a report against a Police Officer on the side of the road. Compliance is expected. If you want to file a report, do it at the Police Station or with the FBI,” said Loftis.
“As an ambassador for the FBI program, I would spread the word about everything we learned,” said Valeria Portillo, Panther Battalion student. “I learned the experience from a police officer’s perspective and the reasons behind their action and protocols. When encountering a police officer, it is very important to try and stay calm and answer them respectfully and accordingly.”
“Officers don’t go into law enforcement to kill someone. We go into this to protect and serve. We have a split second to make a life-or-death situation. We also have families we want to go home to at night,” said MPD Officer Sgt J. March.
As a police officer there are multiple circumstances to be conscious of once a situation has resulted in the use of force: where are the rounds going; actions by random pedestrians; on-going cars and traffic still in play, said March. However, the alleged perpetrator is only concerned with their perspective ploy.
Respect plays a big role in humanity, said Jackson.
“I was happy my peers and I got the opportunity to learn what police are allowed to do and their courses of action for different police encounters. I feel like more kids should go through this experience so they can understand the necessary steps to maintain safety for all parties involved,” said Brian Reece Boutwell, MHS cadet.
When in a flight or fight situation most people don’t realize how many times they are firing, said Michael Gafford, MHS cadet. The stress officers are under in a life-or-death situation is very impactful.
“This program was very helpful as a teenager,” said Zyvair Thompson, Panther Battalion cadet.
Students viewed videos of personal body camera and dashboard footage of law enforcement officers, expeditiously reacting in various situations, which also gave a greater respect for law enforcement officers and influenced students to become ambassador for not only law enforcement but the community, said Kayla Graves, Panther Battalion student cadet.
Students and officials spoke of how cameras could alleviate grievances.
However, not all vehicles and police officers have cameras on them. It is a funding issue. Some offices buy their own cameras or recording devices to protect themselves against potential lawsuits, said Loftis.
Mutual respect and understanding are key component, and the program is designed so law enforcement and students can learn effective ways to communicate with each other, said Jessee.
For more information on the FBI – Bridging the Gap program, which originated in Mobile, Alabama and was rolled out nationally by the FBI go to https://www.mobilepd.org/initiatives/bridging-the-gap-initiative/ (external link).