Police officers, students connect in criminal justice class at Shades Valley

Police officers, students connect in criminal justice class at Shades Valley
The students role play to learn what it's like to be an officer stopping a potential suspect and how to properly respond. Source: WBRC video
The students role play to learn what it's like to be an officer stopping a potential suspect and how to properly respond. Source: WBRC video

IRONDALE, AL (WBRC) - Could education be a solution to better understanding between community and police?

When students at Shades Valley High School learned an actual police officer would be teaching a course in criminal justice, many wanted no part. But things have changed since then.

"Sir, the reason I stopped you today is you were going a little fast through here."

It's a routine traffic stop, but the "officer" is a student role-playing for class.

It's part of the criminal justice career academy funded through the city of Irondale to give students a pathway to law enforcement, but it's doing so much more.

With all the officer involved shootings in the news and the backlash, many of these students wanted no part with police or retired Birmingham officer Patrick Green, their new instructor.

Senior Marcella Williams was one of them.

"When we first started it was really hard because nobody trusted the police, like having a police officers as a teacher, he didn't get as much respect and it was a lot of boys, they'll come in and be like,'I don't care about the police, I hate the police, I am not going to listen to him,'" Williams said.

"At one point I had kids every day get up and say, 'I'm going to see my counselor.' The first couple of weeks was terrible. They'd get up, they'd walk out. I'm sitting there thinking, 'What am I going to do?'" Green said.

Green says he gave students a voice to talk about their concerns and the walls started coming down.

Their role playing puts them in the shoes of officers stopping a potential suspect and teaches them how to properly respond and how the officer feels.

Now Williams says she can see both sides.

"Now I can see where some of the problems have gone. It's not always the police. It's also about paying attention and actually doing what you're being told, that could resolve a lot of issues also," Williams said.

"She was one of the ones who came into the classroom. She left the boxing gloves at the door, she came in swinging, verbally. Now she's one of the top students in the class," Green said of Williams.

Irondale Police Chief Ken Atchinson called the academy a huge success, saying he didn't know what to expect when they started, but ended up with many more students interested in the program.

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