Sarasota, Florida -- The civil unrest in North Carolina could happen here in the Bay area. One sheriff says preventing it comes down to mutual respect between law enforcement and the community.
Sarasota Sheriff Tom Knight is using a strategy called rightful policing. Armed with a fake gun and Taser, 25 middle and high school students step into the shoes of a Sarasota sheriff deputy.
“I was nervous. I didn’t know what was gonna happen. They might have weapons or are crazy,” says Erika Brown, an eighth-grader at Brookside Middle School.
Brown went through several mock scenarios from traffic stops to domestic violence calls during a day of training in rightful policing.
“If you are polite and respectful with him he stays polite and respectful with you. Communication is key it’s not all about shoot’em up, bang, bang,” a deputy tells Brown before responding to a mock suicide call.
“Rightful policing is building that bridge, that relationship with the community most importantly are youth in the community, a respect of each other,” says Knight. He adds, “We want them to get the total understanding of law enforcement officers so they have trust in us.”
Knight says it’s mutual respect that could help prevent flare-ups like the one in North Carolina.
He says, “We are going to have that critical situation in Sarasota County. Could be a deputy shooting. We need to have that relationship, that confidence in our community to sit back, wait for the outcome before we overact and end up like North Carolina or Tulsa, Oklahoma.”
Knight says today’s youth — the millennials — could be the key in improving that relationship and keeping the peace.
“If we miss that opportunity in LEO not to connect it’ll be lost for years to come,” says Knight.
The Rightful Policing Strategy Workshops, says Knight, help give teens a better understanding of what happens during a police stop or call than does social media.
Knight says, “What they see on their phone now is just 15 seconds of what somebody want them to see … not what let up to the incident or what happened.”
Brown says before the training she thought being a deputy or police officers was an easy job. Now? “I thought they deserve more respect, their job is hard,” says Brown.
The sheriff's office works with the Boys and Girls Club and other youth organizations. The next training workshop is Oct. 24 followed by another in December.