Tempe students meet with police to dispel growing stereotypes

Superintendent Kenneth Baca arranged a meeting with students and police officers with intentions of students seeing the “human” side of police. (Photo by Sydnee Scofield/Cronkite News)

TEMPE – With recent national events sparking distrust for police officers, Dr. Kenneth Baca, Superintendent of Tempe Union High School District, invited police officers to Tempe high schools as a “preventative measure.”

“When you look nationally and you see the tension that exists between law enforcement and the public, especially with young adults, teenagers, I thought it was very important that we break down any stereotypes that one may have,” said Baca.

Baca arranged this meeting in the hopes that teenagers would get to see the human side of police, and vice versa.

“These are very smart, bright young adults that have an open mind that really care about the community, care about people,” said Lt. Mike Pooley from the Tempe Police Department.

“Before… I kind of had a perception like, cops are, you know, jerks,” said Malique Washington, a senior at McClintock High School.

As hoped, these conversations sparked a noticeable change in the way these young adults view law enforcement.

“I saw a cop cry like in front of us saying, you know he cares about people, that shocked me,” said Washington. “He told us, like the first thing he told us, he would die for us now, like, you know, this instant.”

Malique wasn’t the only student who saw a change. Melahni Washington, a sophomore at Marcos de Niza High School, said her perception of police completely changed after the meeting.

“Just because one officer made a bad decision, not all of them are bad, you know?” Melahni Washington said.

Lt. Pooley said officers were excited about the meeting, as the public can sometimes get a distorted image of law enforcement.

“You know it was a good conversation, we heard a lot of things that people only saw on the news or in the media and a lot of the stuff they didn’t see is what we talked about,” said Pooley.

Joey Savage, a senior at Tempe High School, is excited about pursuing a career as a police officer after hearing what police do every day.

“I feel like my goal would be to continue to change the perception of the community and to get that negative name out of, when you hear police officer, to get that negative connotation out of there,” said Savage. “Every day they put on their uniform, they are putting their life on the line for us, it’s something that not everybody in the community would do.”

Both the Tempe Police Department and Tempe Union High School District are hoping to have more meetings like this to continue to bring the community together.