|LIFE AFTER LITTLETON: THE POLICE|
May 13, 1999
JIM LEHRER: Now, another of our discussions about responsibility in light of the Colorado high school tragedy. Elizabeth Farnsworth has talked to groups of students, and of parents and teachers. Her third, last night at the county courthouse in Denver, was among police and juvenile justice personnel.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Thank you all for being with us. Tonight we're going to talk about what you can do, what you feel it's your responsibility to do, you who work in the justice system with problem kids every day. And, to begin with, I want to know what you see, what you see every day, what kind of problems you see. Steve Rickard, you're with the Denver gang unit. You go to both city schools and Denver and you go to suburban schools. Tell us what you're seeing, what kind of problems.
STEVE RICKARD, Denver Police, Gang Unit: Well, it seems like recently, I've noticed, particularly in suburban areas, that a lot of kids are doing bizarre crimes. Like, some kids were having a keger and found a -
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Having a what?
STEVE RICHARD: A keger, a beer party. And they found a guy who died of a heart attack. Rather than calling the police, they urinated on the body. These are kids from primarily upper middle-class families.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you have any explanation for that behavior?
LT. LOU LOPEZ (Ret.), Denver Police Department: I saw this same thing years ago in the Denver public school system. And I think there is a great example at Columbine how these kids all of a sudden separated themselves from their peers, and they had to exhibit themselves in the form that would set them apart. It's just something to attract the attention. Eventually what you start to see is a spark develop between somebody else over here that doesn't care for the way they're dressing or something of that nature. Pretty soon you have problems, a problem resulting in -- a lot of times -- in violence.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Given that, when you get those sparks or any of the other problems you're seeing, what's your responsibility for dealing with it?
OFFICER DAVE ADAMS, School Resource Officer: Well, some of the things that I've - when I've seen those - is first of all confront it and say we recognize there's a problem here. And we tend to bring those groups together in kind of a moderator type of format where we have somebody to kind of moderate between the two, try to identify what the problems are. We've done that with groups of students with their parents and just kind of laid it out on the table. You know, why are you guys having this problem and then try to correct it.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Is it important to do be in the school to be able to do this sort of thing? Do you need to be in the schools?
OFFICER JOHN HUNT, School Resource Officer: I think most definitely. The strength of having law enforcement involved in the schools is that it shows to students and it also gives a message to the parents that we are a community. And we are working together to ensure the safety of the schools to the best of our ability, and to do what all parents want for their kids, and that's to get a good education.
LT. LOU LOPEZ (Ret.): I think that the significantly important thing about the officers assigned to the schools is the opportunity for them to follow up and to be present with those kids. And I guarantee you that you probably have bonded with a lot of these kids. I'm going to ask you something. Do you go to the home? Do you rap on the door? Do you go inside and sit down with those parents and the kids?
OFFICER DAVE ADAMS: Yes, and that is such a -
LT. LOU LOPEZ: To me it is. To me it is.
OFFICER DAVE ADAMS: It is to me, and that's what I hear from a lot of my administrators at the schools, is that's something they can't do. And we can leave the school and go out to the house, sit at the kitchen table with the mother and the child and say, "let's talk about this." And we can visit, and...
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Doesn't the parent say "what are you doing here? You're a policeman. My kid doesn't have a problem."
GERARD O'HARE, Jefferson County Juvenile Assessment Center: But I think it would be easy to focus on, also, on traditional models of whom we think is a bad kid or a bad parent. We see kids at the assessment center regularly from Columbine High School in that area. We see kids of all colors, all creeds, and all socioeconomic backgrounds. And they come in as apparently normal kids with normal issues who've maybe made a mistake-- maybe who got caught for possession, or who maybe made, you know, made an error of judgment, who you need to slap on the wrist, and maybe a diversion. But upon further assessment and upon further digging, you find some quite frightening aspects to their character and to their family life. And part of the issue with Columbine is that the country seems to be having a tough time developing a frame for what happened, as if these issues are new. They're not new to the inner city. They're not new to America.
LT. TRACIE KEEZEE, Denver Police Youth Academy: And I think that's the issue, is the fact that they predominately have been in the inner city; that a lot of people just can't comprehend the fact that this is happening.
GERARD O'HARE: But systemically, we need to dig, we need to dig in at an early level, okay? You stole a shirt from the mall, but what else is going on your lives?
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: How do you see your responsibility as law enforcement officers or juvenile justice administrators to recognize a problem in a kid and intervene before it becomes a really dangerous situation?
STEVE RICKARD: We need the tools to intervene. If society expects us to intervene, we need the tools to intervene.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Like what?
STEVE RICKARD: For example, the same people who criticize the police responding would criticize if we don't respond. If we have too strict of a dress code, if you have no dress code, then you fail there. It's kind of a catch-22.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Any other answer?
DETECTIVE GEORGE MUMMA, Jefferson County Juvenile Assessment Center: I agree with Steve. We've created a juvenile assessment center.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What do you do?
DETECTIVE GEORGE MUMMA: We've got a collaboration of people to address all those issues. Everybody needs to be there. If they're not there, those things go away. How much do you want to spend to fix the kids? How much do you want to put into kids?
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay, now let me ask you, because you're law enforcement people, is it sad that we're having this discussion, that policemen have to be in the schools, that we have to have this conversation about what law enforcement can do? Or is it perfectly okay?
LT. TRACIE KEEZEE: It's time.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: It's time?
LT. LOU LOPEZ: How many view this as an awareness thing? You know, we've lost inner-city kids for so long that I can't.-- I mean it just went on and on and on. And just -- it seemed like nothing was happening. Had this happened ten, fifteen years ago, and when we were losing those inner-city kids, we could have been that much further along with this problem. And it wasn't addressed. All of a sudden, we see the President calling in people, having all kinds of power-type people coming in, and they're addressing the problem, and so on and so forth. My feeling is it should have started a long time ago.
STEVE RICKARD: But look at the difference, though, when you look at inner- city gang kids, for example, compared to some of the violence in the suburbs, in suburban areas. At least the inner-city kids, their violence is defined, if they have a defined enemy, where in suburbia, everybody's the enemy. And then they, you know, you don't find gang kids massacring 15 of their classmates. They may kill one gang member.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: You said we have to be careful that we're not just thinking about kids who are sort of stereotypically problem kids. How do you avoid that? I mean, you're looking at the way certain people dress, you said, or if it's a certain sign of a gang, or how do you avoid stereotyping somebody and coming down on them when you shouldn't?
GERARD O'HARE: Kids are complex, and what this country doesn't do is look at them as complex organisms with -- or complex people with complex issues. Kids have some complex issues, so we need a very complex response.
DETECTIVE GEORGE MUMMA: A classic example: The kids that come into the district attorney's office on a case of simple theft, theft under $100. When you sit down and you bring all the components together and say, "Why is this kid stealing?" And Junior says, "Well, my parents got a divorce, and they're concerned with each other, but they're not concerned with me. So I stole something, now they're concerned with me." And that's how Junior gets his attention. We need to look at that. We address that problem-- we do a divorce recovery program, or we do some other intervention.
LT. TRACIE KEEZEE, I think one of the things that brings that to light is with the officers in the schools, it shows the parents that there's a barrier. There's only so much we can do as police officers. The parents have to engage at some time. We can bring these things to your attention, but we're not in the house 24-7. We can't be there to tell you, "Look at this. This is happening."
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: What are the main obstacles you face in doing your work?
OFFICER JOHN HUNT: I think one is perception by other adults about what is the role of a police officer. I know I've had a lot of adults in the schools that I've been at, parents who are amazed, "Wow, you actually called me on the phone and told me about this, a preventative measure, rather than waiting until you have arrested my son or daughter."
STEVE RICKARD: But aren't we missing the boat, though? I mean, the same thing that drives a suburban kid into the Trench Coat Mafia will drive an inner-city kid into a gang. They're going there for e same reason. They're going there because they're lacking something, usually in the home setting. And so they're going to get that love, they're going to get that respect they're going to get that - whatever they're looking for, from either their family or from me subculture.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Given what happened at Columbine, does it make you think that schools should now be tougher? I ask this because one parent in our discussion last week said all the doors but one should be shut in the high schools, if possible; there should be more police officers, there should be metal detectors, and there should be video cameras on everybody. Would that help?
LT. TRACIE KEEZEE: But what's their response? Is it, "maybe I should take some responsibility as to what my child's actions are and what they're doing in the school?" It goes back I mean, we are -- we can't be responsible for everything.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: You're saying that this just isn't that won't do it.
LT. TRACIE KEEZEE: That it got the whole system approach -- I mean -- we all can't -- we'd all love to have a lot of officers in the school. I know I would have felt safer for my daughter if there were more officers in the school, but it's not realistic. It's not going to help them cope. It's not going to help them move on. But you have to look at from all aspects of it. What are the parents doing? What are the schools doing? What's everyone doing together to try to get going?
DETECTIVE GEORGE MUMMA: And at the same time, if you just committed a crime-- let's say for instance he's in the school, and he's caught with marijuana, and we take the nurturing approach and the school administrator takes it away and says, "Junior, don't do that again" -- doesn't call in law enforcement. The way to look it, and the way the statistics show it is, if Junior just got caught, he's done it 17 other times. And if you don't take action at the low end with the school officer, you know what -- next time he's going to be a dope dealer, and the time after that, there'll be something else. We need to get back and do something early on when there's some intervention in order to prevent down the road.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: But what would you all do different in your own work because of what happened at Columbine, anything?
STEVE RICKARD: You can look back and say, okay, now we see what we think we knew then. If we had it to do over again, would we have taken some sort of action? But you can take these same symptoms that people say to watch for troubled kids, and you could probably identify 20 kids at any high school-in inner city Denver or suburban areas -- and then you pull those kids out of school and lock them up in a jail. Is that - what -- is that the answer?
LT. LOU LOPEZ: I don't think, you know, you have to follow through on that stuff. I mean, you just -- it can't be brought to your attention and just sit there and say, "well, I don't have a complainant, and subsequently, I'm going to kiss it off because I don't want to get involved." You have to follow through. And I keep going back to this home visit stuff. Five minutes after you're in a house, you're going to be able to tell why that kid is having problems. But we -- you know there's always -
GERARD O'HARE: We shouldn't lose perspective. I mean, Columbine is not America. If it is, we're in really deep trouble.
OFFICER JOHN HUNT: I think the word the being "watchful." We have to continue to be watchful about the things around us and not necessarily blow those things off. And I keep hearing about, you know, earrings and blue hair and things like that. To me, it's behavior that I'm most concerned about, and probably many of us fit in that same boat. It's behavior from the kids that look like Joe A. Student, as well as the kids with the blue hair. So I want to focus on their behavior and be watchful.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Yes. Lieutenant?
LT. TRACIE KEEZEE: Right. Even from a training standpoint in our academy, when we train new officers, having them... Giving them actually the ability to identify those little problem areas, and then giving them the resources to make the connections. A lot of times it's a five- minute stop, and then they move on. It's the ability to say, "let me get a name and a number, and I can pass this on to my school resource officer," and to make those connections and to have that communication go on with everyone. I mean, that's the key for us, I think, is communication.
ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Okay, that's all the time we have. Thanks very much to all of you for being with us.