One police officer’s perspective from school job


The recent, and ongoing, misadventures of Fayette resident retired General Livsey have received widespread publicity —unwanted as it may have been — and provoked many thoughtful comments, including The Citizen editor’s.

As many of our people’s thoughts have centered on the police’s role in all of this, it might be helpful to view police encounters from a perspective other than mere law enforcement endeavors.

My thoughts on all of this have been influenced by a family member who is a deputy sheriff in Paulding County and has served as a resource officer in its schools for nearly ten years.

Our public schools, as we know, are under federal mandates to be accessible to all our young people, including those with disabilities for which accommodations can be made.

Some of these students suffer from various sorts of impairments which can be regarded as originating in the brain. They have no wheelchairs, they wear no braces, and you can’t tell they have a problem, the more so when the problem manifests itself sporadically.

When a student who looks like everybody else starts doing abnormal things which don’t seem to call for the intervention of a nurse, the cop (resource officer) is called in.

With regular criminals, the goal is to “take them down,” which seems to mean to wrestle them to the ground, cuff them, and take them to jail.

But, as my relative has found out and now teaches to other cops, there is a better way.

With the school kids, the resource officer gets to talk with them. Believe it or not, in his schools it’s the children who have sometimes been doing the teaching, enlightening the resource officer about the nature and course of their brain malfunctions.

We know some children have epilepsy and can have seizures or convulsions. But others have bipolar disorder, or can be manic depressive, and what happens in their brains can be fairly sudden and eventually settle down.

As you can gather from my simple comments, I am no psychiatrist. Neither are school resource officers.

But as my deputy sheriff relative explained to me, he has talked with many of these kids with brain disorders, and they have explained to him how they can suddenly feel overwhelmed by some dark cloud in their head, even hearing voices screaming at them to do things, and unable to calm down until the cloud dissipates after what may be an hour or two.

When kids seem to have episodes like this, the resource officer just takes the time to talk with them, and helps them cool down. He does not “take them down,” cuff them, and take them to jail. It might be quicker and simpler for the officer to use force, but if talking works, even if it takes time, the outcome is better all around.

Our police officers have lately become more sensitive to how they are perceived in the community, and what their true role might be.

Today, my deputy sheriff relative helps teach other cops who are made to attend classes on community relations how much better it is to understand that people of all ages may have mental health issues which call for patience rather than an immediate takedown.

Mental health issues, by the way, may be congenital, but they may also be the side effect of many modern medications taken legally, and we know that in this day and age older people are prescribed a lot of medications with a long list of potential side effects. We also have all heard about post-traumatic stress disorder in the military.

Our criminal justice system has a medieval tilt to it which is increasingly disturbing. The medieval mind holds that actions are either right or wrong, and if you do wrong it’s your fault and you need to be punished.

That is really primitive. Our society needs to grow up. We recognize now that not everybody is wired the same. Our older people now often live long enough to experience brain function problems, like Alzheimer’s or dementia. Some of these problems can be constant, but others could be sporadic.

Those kids in our schools who have brain function problems, they’ll turn into adults, and the brain function problems might continue . . .

People who understand the difference between war and diplomacy as techniques to achieve a desirable goal are likely to also appreciate the attitude shift between take-down and talking things over.

When my deputy sheriff relative was assigned to his resource officer job, little did he imagine all that he would learn about the children in his schools, and especially all that he would learn from them. He was quite happy to be able to share his newfound knowledge about people that can make him a peacekeeper rather than a warrior. He can still shoot a gun, but it’s not the first thing he’ll try!

Personally, I would encourage our police officers to make more of an effort to know the people on their beat. If our only encounters with the police are through our lowered left car windows to receive a ticket, or worse as in the general’s case, not much good will come of it.

When I was a kid, cops had walking beats. The same cops would walk down the same streets all the time, saying hello to folks, introducing themselves, getting to know the people and the kids, and being friendly. I remember going to the precinct police station one day, and being given a tour of the place, including the cells. I was really impressed. I wasn’t scared of these guys; they were my friends and protectors.

My deputy sheriff relative is quite happy with his job, for the opportunity it gives him to know the kids he is charged to protect, and to help them whenever he can. Perhaps good policing is a matter of attitude.

[A Fayette resident, Claude Y. Paquin is a retired lawyer and actuary who also holds an education degree.]