By Representative Allen Farley
My family has been privileged to be part of the Public Safety profession in Alabama for three generations. One of my grandfathers was the police chief of the small Jefferson County city of Brighton in the 1930’s. Our dad became a member of the Alabama Highway Patrol after returning from World War II. He later transferred to the Alabama ABC Board where he retired. I retired from the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office as Assistant Sheriff in 2010. That was the end of a 37 year career that began on October 1, 1973 as a Beat Officer with the City of Bessemer. My brother Mark is currently a Captain with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office. Public Safety is a topic I can talk about with confidence.
The Public Safety profession has really changed since 1973 when I carried a 38 caliber Smith & Wesson revolver and walked the 3-11 beat in downtown Bessemer, Alabama. Today’s police officers can’t comprehend walking down alley’s with a flashlight checking business doors to make sure everything is locked. Heck, we didn’t even have walkie-talkies when I started. My supervisor would always make sure I had a dime in my pocket to call the station for help if I ran into trouble. (When is the last time you saw a phone booth)?
Today is different. The Public Safety professionals have high capacity semi-automatic handguns with laser sights, non-Lethal tasers, stun guns, mace, body armor, computers, scanners, and GPS tracking systems. However, so do the bad guys. (The bad guys often have the newest firearms and equipment first).
Over the Christmas holidays I noticed the larger Law Enforcement agencies were utilizing helicopters and state-of-the-art Mobile Command Units in high traffic areas. All of this very expensive technology was purchased for one reason; to keep today’s public as safe as possible. However, without properly trained Law Enforcement professionals, they might as well have been looking for a telephone booth with a dime. (Oh yeah, I had a whistle on a chain too).
I continue to be amazed at the public’s lack of understanding for the day-to-day challenges of the 21st century Law Enforcement professional. My generation fell in love with the simple human understanding shown by Sheriff Andy Taylor and Barnie Fife. And, today’s television audience is convinced that Leroy Jethro Gibbs and his NCIS team can solve any crime with their high-tech sidekicks Abby and Duckie. But, neither of these two extremely successful television shows is real. Both involve fake guns, fake crimes, and fake deaths. We’ve watched those shows enough that we believe we could do it. Nothing to it. Wrong! (Watching Ben Casey and House hasn’t made you a doctor)!!!
I’ve brought you down this Public Safety rabbit trail for a reason. I’ve done a lot of thinking over the past few weeks about keeping our schools safe. Some of you know that part of my Law Enforcement career was spent as the first School Liaison Officer to the Jefferson County School District. From January 1990 until May of 1997 I was the Law Enforcement conduit for 65 Jefferson County Schools. I worked daily with school principals, teachers, and parents, to keep the schools safe. I learned a lot about the different challenges that our educators face each school day. And, I also realized it takes a real gift from God to be a good teacher. Everyone can’t teach a classroom full of children or young adults. Just like everyone can’t be a good Law Enforcement Officer. Today, both are very specialized fields. A teacher’s poor instructional efforts could result in a student’s lack of adequate knowledge in a particular subject. But, a Law Enforcement Officer’s mistake in observation, or tactic of approach, could result in death.
In the late 1990’s many schools started utilizing area Law Enforcement Officers as classroom teachers for DARE, (Drug Abuse Resistance Education), classes. After a few years the focus changed from drug awareness to Gang Resistance. The trained Law Enforcement Officer then taught GREAT, (Gang Resistance Education and Training), classes. The intent of both programs was to utilize school assigned Law Enforcement Officers as classroom teachers. (It also gave a teacher a study period).
What message were we sending when we isolated a trained Public Safety professional inside a classroom for a designated period of time? Were we no-longer concerned with securing the facility? Were we saying anyone can teach our children? In both cases were we short-changing our children? (There’s an old saying about trying to make a silk purse from a sow’s ear).
Our schools are a reflection of our communities. Guns and drugs aren’t produced at school. And, arrogance and lack of respect aren’t taught at school. They all come from home. Our educators are overworked, under paid, and blamed for not fixing in eight hours what parents have neglected to address in sixteen. Now, we want to use our 2nd Amendment rights to hold teachers accountable for armed confrontations. (Give me a break)!!!
In 2004 I became a proud graduate of the 218th session of the FBI Law Enforcement National Academy in Quantico, Virginia. I spent two and a half months learning from Law Enforcement professionals from around the world. The FBI Academy brings people together to talk, study, and exchange ideas in the field of Public Safety. The FBI has been conducting the National Academy since 1935. They understand how the profession of Public Safety has changed. They also understand it is a complicated profession that truly deals with life and death situations.
As a Law Enforcement Professional, and a grandfather, I understand the full weight of keeping our schools safe. As a current member of the Alabama House of Representatives I also understand how politicians can look at opportunities for vote getting legislation. We need to keep politics out of this. (This is too important to screw up). I would recommend a conference of our nation’s top Law Enforcement professionals to be held at the FBI Academy to discuss a most important national topic. Let’s secure our schools.
Isaiah 6:8 Then I heard the Lord say, “Whom shall I send? Who will be our messenger?” I answered, “I will go! Send me!”
God Bless America!!!