The conversation about race relations in this country — from shootings involving police officers to athletes kneeling for the national anthem — has become more prevalent with the rise of social media.
With videos being shared in real time on social media, our exposure to these racially charged conversations is spreading faster than ever before.
A group of officers is hoping to shift the narrative to create a safe space for honest, open dialogue, starting at a much younger age.
Vacaville Police Officers Matt Adame and Dale Hogg teach a criminal justice course to seniors at Vacaville High School. Another pair of officers teach the same course to students at Will C. Wood High School. These officers were already assigned to patrol schools within the district, but both earned their teaching credentials to be able to instruct students.
"Just the level of communication is amazing to me," Hogg said. "The connections we are making at such a young age will carry over into our community, and it just creates that stronger bond."
Students bring up topics they want to discuss, and are encouraged to ask their badged instructors tough questions about current events.
The officers said the course has given them more insight into how the students think.
"You know the first day of class we opened up the dialogue for good experiences and bad experiences with the police and getting their perspective on it was really eye-opening," Hogg said.
"For the most part we try to play a role in it where we are not taking sides," Adame said. "We've established a respect level and rapport with the students so they can open up. A big part of this is to make sure they are properly informed."
Reginald Ware, a senior at one of the high school where the officers teach, wants to pursue a career in law enforcement, but admits he knows people who have a negative view of police.
"I do have friends who probably don't like the police that much, but they have a clouded vision of what they do," Ware said. "They think they just arrest people, but it's more than that. It's protecting people and ensuring that our rights are not being violated. I like having that primary source of information coming from the police officers themselves."
Valerie Hogg, another high school senior, said she has a unique perspective on law enforcement. One of the instructors, Officer Hogg, is her father.
"A lot of people don't understand what police go through on a daily basis, they just think oh they're cops they just want to catch bad people or do whatever they want," Valeria said. "If they know more about law enforcement then I think they'll stop saying negative things. I think it's a good idea we talk about it in class because we can have everyone's opinions involved."
The officers hope these conversations will expand beyond the classroom walls.
"For me the biggest goal is to win the hearts and minds of the kids and to let them know we are here for them as a resource," Hogg said. "There is a big movement to pull people away from police and make us the bad guys. We are here to let them know we are not the bad guys, we are the good guys."
"Yes it's taught by police officers, but we want to teach them about public service in general and citizenship, so they can carry those lessons through life," Adame added. "At this age they start coming into adulthood and they are faced with adult decisions. They need to understand their responsibility as a citizen and they need to understand their rights."
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