MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Teens traded in a carefree day of summer vacation to take on the role of a law enforcement officer and learn about policing practices.
It’s an FBI program called “Bridging the Gap,” designed to break down barriers that often exist between civilians and police.
Law enforcement 101 started first thing Thursday morning with a crash course on patrol. Officers walked the participants through a traffic stop, then they traded places.
The officers showed the teens how to approach a car, while others in the program sat in an SUV learning how to respond during a similar stop.
“Our main goal is to teach the youth what it’s like to have a law enforcement experience, what they can expect from a law enforcement officer and what a law enforcement officer can expect from them,” explained Bret Kirby, FBI Assistant Special Agent in charge. “Now they understand the expectations, if something goes beyond that and they feel their rights have been violated, we let them know who they can report that to.”
The event covered body searches, domestic violence calls, and even a shooting simulator. The video scenarios were based on real scenes, which prompted a conversation about the use of deadly force.
“When I first tried it - it scared me because it happened so fast,” stated Amarya Barnes, who volunteers to help with the first video.
Barnes was shocked by how quickly the incidents escalated - truth serum for what she’s seen on social media.
“They really see it’s real life, not what they see on TV,” stated Kirby. “When someone comes out with a post on social media they see a situation that happened. They will ask, ‘How did that happen - how can a law enforcement officer do that?' Then after the instruction where our division counsel is talking about force and the types of force, I see a light bulb go off.”
“Bridge the Gap” was created by the Mobile FBI Field Office five years ago in conjunction with local law enforcement. They put this program on once a week during the school year in Mobile and traveled across the Southern and Middle Districts offering the program during the year. Generally, 500 students are reached annually.
“We’ve seen kids go through the Mobile Police Academy that were students at one point that were part of the program. The scenarios we use opened them up to a career in law enforcement,” said Kirby.
While Barnes isn’t sure she’s ready to sign up for the FBI - she confidently tackled her fear of law enforcement.
“I used to be scared of them, but now I understand now what’s going on,” she stated.
Roughly three hours of interaction between the teens and police that shattered years of apprehension.
“We are all people, we have families, we have children, we have pets - we are just like them,”, said Kirby.