Dothan police, FBI talk police interactions with high school students

Dothan police, FBI talk police interactions with high school students
(Source: WSFA 12 News)

DOTHAN, AL (WSFA) - More than a dozen students at Dothan High School spent half their school day Thursday discussing civilian and law enforcement interactions with Dothan police and the Federal Bureau of Investigations in a program called "Law Enforcement Bridging the Gap".

Students participate in scenarios where they encounter officers and police, who guide them through what they say are best practices.

"This is a program designed to help teach youth, primarily around ninth and tenth grade, interaction with law enforcement and the types of things they can do to have a smooth, easy interaction," explained Bret Kirby, the assistant special agent in charge of the Mobile FBI Field Office.

Students are given scenarios like traffic stops or police responding to a party where there is underage drinking and discuss the possible outcomes that could arise based on their behavior.

"We try to show them that often they dictate how those encounters turn out," said Captain Bubba Ott with the Dothan Police Department.

Law enforcement say they believe most people know how to interact with law enforcement, but add students should learn the proper ways. They believe students in high school are at the age where learning the interactions is important.

"They're starting to get involved in so much more," Kirby said. "They're starting to get into that area where they're getting ready to get a driver's permit so they have a greater opportunity to come into contact with law enforcement."

During the scenarios, police emphasized having open, honest communication and mutual respect.

"Be a person because they are a person too," said student Kaison Coleman.

Police say they use the class not to just teach students how to interact, but to dispel myths.

"Usually, when we dispel some of those, that helps down the road when they encounter an officer," Ott added.

"If you know what a cop's mentality is, then you'll know that they are not trying to harm you, they're here to help you," added student Devin Rafferty.

Police say the workshop also provides perspective. The last scenario involves watching a shooter training drill where the students' chaperone must decide when to use deadly force in an encounter. They discuss each encounter and questions that sometimes arise during high profile cases.

"Just how quickly things can change in a split second and law enforcement has to make a decision and many instances, it's a life and death decision," Kirby added.

Northview Students will participate in the program Friday. This is the second year of the program, which is usually held once in the fall and once in the spring.

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