Officers have a lot on their plates. With budget crunches getting worse, often there are fewer officers on the street. Although the numbers aren't out yet, economic depression often results in increases in crime, therefore, calls for service. So, who has the time to deal with kids and why should officers bother? For several reasons, including being a role model, teaching respect for socially accepted authority and nurturing future police officers.
Many children do not have the fortune of being surrounded by positive role models. Even those who have loving guardians can benefit from respectful, responsible adults in the community. Officers are in a unique position to model healthy traits, such as self-esteem, physical wellness, safety and respect. Not every child will respond positively to an officer's modeling and many, unfortunately, are being taught disrespectful attitudes by friends and family, but this shouldn't remove the obligation to model from the officer. It might not seem to make a difference how you interact with a teenager, but your interaction might just be the experience that child holds on to and emulates.
Society has agreed to allow police officers to be agents of social control and authority. Every day officers are being held up to the standard of this role. Interacting with kids, especially in a setting like an academy allows officers to explain why society has tasked them with these responsibilities and how they carry them out. This helps remove the you're just a big bully with a gun attitude some kids have. Understanding of law enforcement's place in the social system can go a long way towards increasing acceptance and respect.
If police work is going to continue to grow and evolve, a new generation of officers must take the place of those before. Whenever officers host events or take the time to talk to kids in their community about what they do, they could be lighting the fire within them that eventually leads them to the academy and onto the streets themselves. Being approachable and answering questions about what you do and how you do it, could be the beginning of a child's desire to protect and serve.
Connecting with children is an important part of good policing. Officers who are open and interact with kids stand out in their minds and help develop their opinions of those who wear a uniform. As for my son, he was told to march back up to that deputy's car and apologize. I watched as he crossed the street, head down, and approached the window. Fifteen minutes later, he was still standing there, a smile on his face having a great conversation with a new role model.