Officer guides students through life
Hello kids and grownups (ha I got you with that last one didn’t I? :D), I am writing today about Officer Carlton Rodgers, 43, from Wichita.
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Officer Rodgers is a the good shepherd for 1,815 students of the Southeast High School, and the shepherd of 1,815 students.
And some of his flock -- a carload of girls -- are trying to sneak off during study hall. Rodgers spots their car pulling out of the school parking lot on South Edgemoor and drives off after them in his patrol car.
The driver quickly pulls over, and when he walks up, she says she isn't feeling well because of feminine issues and is headed home. This amuses him.
"It takes you and your friends?" he asks her and follows them back into the school parking lot.
For two days earlier this week, school and police officials let a reporter follow Rodgers around Southeast High to see what a school resource officer's job is like.
Twenty-two of Wichita's largest high schools and middle schools have a school resource officer. The SROs have been in the news because of contentious negotiations between the city and school district over how to split the cost of providing them. The school board voted Monday to pay half the cost of the officers by 2009.
He calls them by name
Tuesday morning, Rodgers watches at Southeast's main hallway intersection, called the Go Zone. Students have to keep moving there. Wave after wave passes him. It's so loud, but somehow his soft, husky voice comes through.
Much of his job is walking the hallways and having casual conversation with students. He's part cop, part social worker, part counselor. As Southeast's SRO for three years and as Curtis Middle School's SRO for two years before that, he knows hundreds of students by name. The middle school sits next to the high school.
"Come here, David," he says to one boy. "Doing all right?" a question he often asks, along with "Keeping your grades up?" and "What's up?" He has known David since the boy was a sixth-grader.
The familiarity pays off when he patrols the neighborhood around Southeast or works on the streets when school is out.
Often when something happens on the street and students are witnesses, they are apt to confide in him because they know him.
Along the school corridors, he walks with a slight limp from a high school football knee injury. He ambles 2 to 3 miles a day around the school.
He grins a lot. People tell him he looks like actor Forest Whitaker, except Rodgers has no lazy eye.
As a former gang unit officer, he knows all about Wichita's gangs, and knows some of the students are in rival gangs.
"But the message has been sent by the (school) administration: We don't tolerate it... and the kids know that. Ain't no red, green, black, blue (gang) colors here. It's all about the education," Rodgers says.
"We've got one or two of them that are hard-core." Yet, they're staying in school, so he still has some hope for them.
At school, he wears his Wichita police uniform and carries the standard weapons around his waist: Taser, baton, pepper spray and a Glock .40-caliber handgun. Southeast also has two district security officers, but only the SRO carries a gun.
Every time he hears of a Columbine-style attack somewhere, he says, "I just cringe, because it can happen anywhere, anytime."
He has studied the Columbine tragedy and others like it. He trains every year on how to engage an "active shooter" in a school scenario. He knows that if the worst were to happen, he could be one of the first targets and one of the first with a chance to stop it.
"You can't wait. You have to act, and believe me, I've thought of that a lot," he says.
On the job
Rodgers often stations himself along the main corridor to the office. There, he can head off any trouble coming. Sometimes it comes in the form of irate parents. He'll hear them yell, see them stomp. Sometimes he has to intervene.
Later Tuesday morning, he steps into assistant principal Fred Crayton's office, where two freshman girls have been sent for fighting. One girl accuses the other of striking her in the face during a debate exercise.
Rodgers stands, listens. "She shouldn't have hit me," the one girl says in an agitated voice. As she sits, her knee rapidly bounces up and down. She's seething.
The other girl says: "I didn't think I hit you that hard."
There doesn't seem to be a visible injury.
Rodgers: "Why did you hit her?"
Rodgers: "You got to control that. That's what debate's about."
He tells the other girl: "Don't be so mad." She says she sees a therapist because of her anger. But after a few minutes of talking, she calms down.
Crayton hands down the punishment -- two 40-minute detentions, and he warns that any more conflict will end in suspension.
Rodgers has final say on whether to make an arrest for misdemeanor battery but decides it's not warranted.
A lot of weeks, he makes three to four arrests at the school, usually misdemeanors for fighting.
Earlier this year, he confiscated a switchblade.
This week has been peaceful. He had made only one arrest through Friday.
To follow department policy, he has to put a student in handcuffs when he makes an arrest. For many students, it's embarrassing to be seen in handcuffs. So Rodgers tries to escort them out when the halls are empty.
After Rodgers passes a classroom, history teacher Richard Caldwell sticks his head out of the door and tells the reporter that the schools need SROs. He says Rodgers' easygoing way makes him effective with teens. "They respect him."
To Rodgers, Southeast students defy labels. "We've got all different demographics here, from the poor to the rich" -- kids from Planeview to Vickridge.
The biggest segment, 39 percent, is black. The rest of the breakdown: 33 percent white/non-Hispanic, 16 percent Hispanic, 11 percent Asian/Pacific Islander.
Rodgers sees plenty of interracial dating "just because it's a big melting pot now."
It wasn't always that way. Down one of the school's back hallways, you can see the demographic transformation in sports team pictures lining the walls. Teams from the mid-1960s are all-white. By the mid-1970s, black students appear in the pictures.
Although Rodgers sees his share of troubled students, he also interacts with brainy kids, ambitious kids. There's one girl who's determined to become a marine biologist. Another wants to become a cop. They share their dreams with him.
One of the success stories is Rayea Wiley. She graduated last year. Now she's Private First Class Wiley. The 18-year-old visits the school Tuesday in her Army uniform and shakes Rodgers' hand. She's headed to South Korea.
She had some tough times in school. "Nothing bad," she says, "but I had a little attitude." In the Army, "I learned to keep my mouth shut."
Rodgers knows some officers would hate his job. He applied for it. "I just like working with the kids. They're young adults. It's your own beat."
But there are times when a student can strain his tolerance. Once he saw a boy pick up a school parking ticket on his car, wad it up and throw it down in front of a school security officer. The blatant disrespect so angered Rodgers, he had to walk away.
'You need to be here'
Wednesday morning, Rodgers drives his patrol car through rows of houses east of the school, looking for truants. He also responds to robberies and other emergencies in the area around the school, and is often the first at the scene.
He points out a board fence that has been frequently "tagged" with gang graffiti, but the symbols have been cleaned off. A few weeks ago, workers removed gang graffiti from the side of the school building.
Later Wednesday, he steps into an office where the five girls who tried to sneak away in the car sit in front of Crayton, the assistant principal.
Rodgers leans against a wall and tells them: "It's not that we're trying to harass you or keep you from having fun, but you need to be here."
They could have gotten into an accident while skipping class, he and Crayton tell them.
Rodgers could arrest them for truancy but doesn't. They're good girls having a bad day. As Crayton begins to escort them to their classes, one says, "This ain't even fair."
Later, as Rodgers stands near the office, a long-haired girl approaches him.
"How's you and your dad?" he asks her.
"I almost poisoned him last night when I was making his dinner," she says, joking.
"It works better when you talk," he says.
Then she blurts out that she plans to get her entire back tattooed.
After she walks off, he comments: "She's one of the eccentric ones.... She's a good kid."
He's a father himself, raising a 12-year-old daughter, Sara, mostly by himself. And Sara will be a teen soon. "I'm dreading those days," he says, laughing.
"But at least I have some experience, watching what other parents went through and seeing it firsthand."
Parents ask his advice when their kids get in trouble. It's hard to know what to say. But one thing he always tells them.
"Don't ever quit. Don't ever quit on your kid."
And that’s my advice for today ladies and gents.. Don’t you ever quit, because there will be a time that you will hate yourself for that. Push it as far as you can and do what is to do but don’t quit, and if your body cant take it no more, don’t quit mentally. Live, get stronger, and fight that fight another day ;) .
God bless you all and keep you safe,
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