Learning more than a lesson

Published 3:32 am Thursday, January 18, 2007

By Staff
Depending on who is doing the talking, police officers may be described as protectors or persecutors. Views about police officers, like beauty, are in the eyes of the beholders.
To students, teachers and staff members at John Cotten Tayloe Elementary School on Jan. 8, Washington’s police officers were no doubt viewed as protectors as the school was locked down. The search for a man accused of fatally shooting his wife on nearby Harrington Street resulted in the school being locked down.
Officers did what they are supposed to do in such situations — provide protection to those who cannot protect themselves.
Bubs Carson, principal of John Cotten Tayloe Elementary School, is right in his praise of the Washington Police Department’s professional response to a dangerous situation. Carson notes that an officer entered the school building to provide that protection as other officers in police vehicles patrolled the school’s campus.
Yes, the department has had its problems over the years. Last year, one of its officers was arrested on charges of robbing Hispanics during traffic stops. Several years ago, another officer pleaded guilty to a count of willful failure to discharge his duties. That officer had been charged with removing a portion of marijuana stored as evidence by the department and smoking it.
But officers’ actions on Jan. 8 go to the heart of what police officers should do. Anyone who watched the “Adam-12” television show in the late 1960s and early 1970s may remember the motto on the side of the Los Angeles Police Department’s police cruisers — “To protect and serve.” That’s exactly what Washington officers did Jan. 8.
Those public words probably resulted in a swelling of pride within the chests of Washington police officers, and rightfully so.
That’s their job, some people may respond. What’s so special about doing their job, those people may ask.
Would they be willing to put themselves between students, teachers and staff members at the school and an armed man who had killed one person?
The fact that police officers are willing to go in harm’s way every day makes what they do special.
And what better role models could young children have than police officers showing them how to protect and serve their fellow man?
There’s no doubt students at John Cotten Tayloe Elementary School learned a lesson on Jan. 8 that wasn’t part of any teacher’s lesson plan. That lesson was taught to them by the officers who responded to the school.
As these students grow up, they are likely to run across reports and images of police officers mistreating people, or worse. There’s no denying that some police officers abuse their power and authority.
There’s a good chance children will form their opinions about police officers based on what happened on a January afternoon in 2007 while they were at school. There’s a good chance they will remember being protected from possible harm. There’s a chance some of those students will become police officers and protect others as they were protected.
It will be those students who show they learned more than reading, writing and ’rithmetic that day. They learned a way of life.