School police officers fight perceptions

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 12, 2001

Police officers stationed in schools? It’s a strange notion for those of us who remember the biggest threat in school as a fist fight or a teacher’s paddle.

Although the idea of police routinely stationed in our school yards once seemed like a bizarre idea, police are walking the halls of Natchez-Adams Schools this year.

Naysayers to the plan will say, &uot;It just shows you how bad our society has become. Now we have to have police in the schools.&uot;

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The reality may worry some, but perhaps it’s not such a bad idea after all.

The program, which began last week utilizes a U.S. Department of Justice grant to fund the addition of four Natchez police officers to patrol the campuses of three schools.

Officers will stay on campus during school hours and will interact with students and faculty and serve as a deterrent to poor behavior.

Critics may worry the officers are needed to keep law and order on campus.

While that is a side benefit of their presence, it’s hardly the sole reason for the program.

Fortunately our schools are safe, with or without the presence of police officers.

Sure, Natchez-Adams has had its share of discipline problems and fights in the last few years. But most school districts have.

Perhaps one of the more important benefits of having police officers on school campuses is one of perception.

Unfortunately many young people don’t respect the role of police officers. For some reason they look at police officers through negative eyes.

The fear is if those children grow up distrusting law officers, they’ll wind up being adults who feel the same way.

Many months ago, while at a parade held in downtown Natchez, I saw this firsthand.

A group of boys was standing on the corner when a uniformed police officer approached. The look on the boys’ faces instantly changed.

Happy, smiling faces suddenly turned sour and resentful, almost defiant.

Now the officer hadn’t said a word or even looked at the group, he’d simply appeared on the boys’ radar screens.

Immediately the question of race will pop up in the minds of many people hearing about the parade incident.

But in this case both the officer and the boys were of the same skin color.

For whatever reason, many youth in our society have changed.

Years ago, children looked up to police officers and, in some cases, even wanted to become police officers when they grew up. Now many students view the uniforms and badges with mistrust.

While it’s difficult for many people to fathom why this is, the point isn’t necessarily to understand it. The focus should be on how we stop the negative views toward the police.

If having police officers roam the halls of our schools will help, so be it.

After trying the program for a while, if we can’t see any benefit, then we can change it, but at least our police and our school system is actively working to solve a potentially destructive perception.

Kevin Cooper is managing editor of The Democrat. He can be reached at (601) 445-3541 or by e-mail at