Middle School Students Forge Positive Relationships with Syracuse Police through AssembliesThis winter, Syracuse Police Department Officer Brandon Hanks and former Police Chief Frank Fowler visited all SCSD middle schools to speak with students about youth violence in the community.
They hosted grade-level assemblies for all middle school students, focusing on building positive and trusting relationships, being an upstander, and strategies to help promote safe and healthy behaviors.
But these weren’t the standard lecture-style talks: they aimed to create genuine connections with students – person to person, not officer to student.
“Usually when a police officer comes to school, they talk about protocol,” Huntington 8th grader Alessia Dee said. “But Officer Hanks was cool. He made it feel like we could bond with him in different ways – it felt like he could be our friend. I’d feel more comfortable running into him on the streets instead of another officer because I feel like I can trust him.”
“He really connected with us,” classmate Zakaria Noor added. “He made us laugh and feel happy and safe. Some people don’t have good experiences with police, but he was an amazing person. He said we should be open minded with police officers because they are trained to help keep us safe – we can call them anytime we need them. I think it would help to have more police officers in schools as counselors or in other roles where they can help children. If they were more active in the community on a personal level, it might help people trust them more. Officer Hanks plays basketball with my little brother, so I feel like I can trust him.”
Grant 8th grader Anthony Davis said he thinks talks like this can help change the culture within the City of Syracuse.
“The officer talked to us about violence and gangs,” he explained. “He talked about how a lot of people promote gun violence on social media, and how some people think it’s cool to post a picture with a gun on them. He told us to walk away from it; not interact with things like this. I think he changed some of us – talks like this can help prevent us from doing bad things. They can also help the relationship between kids and the police, maybe helping us look up to police officers. I’ve always wanted to be a police officer because I see them helping people. I’d like to be a police officer in Syracuse so I can help people who need it, too.”
Brighton Academy Math Teacher Janae Greene said that exposure to seeing police officers can be beneficial not only for students but for officers as well.
“Anytime that students get to see and interact with officers in a positive light, it’s a good thing,” she said. “For a lot of our kids, their personal experience may not have been positive. So for them to have a conversation with an officer who’s out of uniform, it gives them to be able to interact and joke and see them in a different light than someone who’s coming to get them in trouble. And for the officers, they begin to familiarize themselves with our students, who they may see out in the community. And hopefully the officers can start to feel familiar with our kids, and vice versa – our kids can start to feel safer and realize that some cops are nice. They’re not going to be mean or treat people badly, like they sometimes see on social media.”
Thank you to Officer Hanks, Chief Fowler, and the Syracuse Police Department for opening this door to our middle school students!