Former Chief Pat Fuller
by Chief Patrick Fuller, former Chief of Austin Independent School District Police Department
Pat Fuller wrote the following article near the end of his long tenure as Chief of Police of the Austin ISD Police Department explaining the impact of the Junior Police Academy.
The problem we face as school district officers is how to fulfill our dual role as enforcers and educators. It’s a delicate balance.
Let’s say, for example, that you have two 13-year-olds fighting in the hallway at school.
You can’t treat them the same way you would two 13-year-olds doing the same thing on a public street. With the students you may still have an opportunity to teach them alternatives to fighting.
Our officers need to take the time to help students work through their problems so that when the officer isn’t around the next time, the students can work that problem out for themselves.
That’s what I’m talking about – enforcing the rules while at the same time ensuring that the school will be a healthier and safer place in the future.
Of course, a big part of our job is to stop disruptive situations before they start. Students know who is dopin’. They know who is carrying a gun, and who is going to fight. But the big question we’ve always faced is how do we get the students to share that information with us?
They aren’t likely to go to a police officer with that information, unless a safe relationship already exists between that officer and student.
It’s not hard to understand: a student wants to know that if he shares information about a harmful situation, the officer with whom he shared that information can deal with that situation without getting the student into trouble. In order to get the information, we need to do our job well. A trusting and sincere relationship must exist between officers and students. As we all know, most students aren’t rushing out to form this kind of relationship with police officers. We feel, therefore, that it’s the officers’ job to take the initiative on that one.
Unfortunately, this approach is easier said than done. 90% of the contact that officers have with citizens is during confrontational situations, and, as a result, a lot of officers tend to think of all citizens in that context. School district officers have a tendency to carry this attitude into the schools with them. Many do not trust the students - and others are just plain afraid of them.
That’s were the Junior Police Academy comes in. The program allows officers and students to interact in an environment free from enforcement. It provides an opportunity for officers and students to see each other as people rather than as enemies.
In the beginning, when we first started with JPA, we had some schools that didn’t want to participate. They had limited space and resources, and because they didn’t understand JPA, they didn’t want to invest in it.
Now our biggest problem is that the schools keep pulling our officers off of the campus to teach more [JPA] classes. The students may not see it, but we do. And so do the schools – the Junior Police Academy works. It supports a healthy and safe school environment, and we will continue to use it.