Officers connect with kids

Published 10:25 pm Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Suffolk Unit of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Southeast Virginia hosted a Community Officer Forum at John F. Kennedy Middle School on Thursday.

Suffolk police officers, Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office representatives and a local pastor spoke to Boys & Girls Club members 12 and older about positive relationships and interactions with law enforcement.

“I wanted to make sure our teens had their own voice in Suffolk, and that law enforcement had the opportunity to give their voice back,” said Keith Robinson, Suffolk Unit team director.

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The officers stressed that awareness and discussion were crucial in fostering positive relationships with the community.

“I believe we go above and beyond to serve the citizens,” said Sgt. Andre Sparks. “We have a good relationship as a whole.”

Boys & Girls Club members asked the panel about media portrayal of law enforcement, citizen rights in encounters with law enforcement and stereotypes that promote animosity on both sides.

“Some of them gave you pause and forced you to think about the subject matter,” said Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Vaughn Breedlove.

Panel members responded to each question in turn, and the Suffolk teens gave their undivided attention. Some of them urged the teens to not be influenced by peers who promote disrespect for law enforcement.

“Take each encounter with an officer as it comes and make your own judgments,” said detective Casey Thomas.

They explained the risks officers face daily, with domestic violence situations and traffic stops among the leading cases of officer deaths in the line of duty.

“No traffic stop is routine,” Sparks said. “Our No. 1 goal is we want to go home. It’s not to make you feel uncomfortable. We have families, as well, and we want to go home.”

Officers stressed that they are members of the community, just like the teens, and both the police and Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office are focused on their welfare.

“Most people think we are fault finders, but that is such a small part of what law enforcement does,” said Sgt. David Miles. “We want this to be a community.”

Suffolk Church of God Pastor Aaron Burgess said opportunities like the forum are great for allowing teens to see law enforcement representatives as individuals and vice versa.

“It’s helping them to understand what it’s like to be a student in today’s world,” Burgess said.

Darryl Thompson, a 12-year-old John F. Kennedy Middle School student, said he had positive interactions with law enforcement at his school in the past.

“They haven’t done anything to me, and they’re helping people,” Thompson said.

Cierra Stallings, another 12-year-old student at the school, learned a lot from the forum. She said it will make her less nervous when she interacts with law enforcement in the community.

It even sparked a new career interest.

“If nurse practitioner doesn’t work out, then I will probably go into the police enforcement field,” Stallings said.