'Bridging the Gap' seeks to rebuild relationships between youth and law enforcement

Published: May. 16, 2019 at 6:20 PM CDT
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Building mutual respect between Wiregrass youth and police officers.

That's the goal of the "Bridging the Gap" program, sponsored by the Dothan Police Department.

High school students from Dothan gathered this morning at Wiregrass Park, to learn what they should expect from an encounter with law enforcement.

Just turn on your television, or log on to social media, and almost daily, another officer-involved shooting somewhere, sparking fear, doubt, and mistrust between civilians and law enforcement.

But the Dothan Police Department is working to change that perception.

"We're no different than their parents or their teachers, or the other authority figures in their life, who they already have to kind of stay on good terms with," Dothan Police Captain Bubba Ott.

That's why officers hosted the "Bridging the Gap" program, in hopes of helping youth from around the Wiregrass understand police are people they can trust.

"We like to take the influentials within the high schools, kind of the leaders who can help us do away with some of these myths,” said Ott.

Through simulations like a home encounter, a street encounter and a traffic stop, a select group of students from Northside Methodist, Northview and Dothan high schools, learned the wrong and right ways to behave when approached by law enforcement.

"The first time we do it, where they're disrespectful, they don't follow commands and they're making the officer's job extremely hard. We then turn around and talk about it the second time, where they do everything the right way. They follow commands given by the officer. They're respectful," said Ott.

And the students appeared receptive.

"I feel that if you respect them, they'll respect you and won't nothing bad happen," said Northview tenth grader, Brayden Melton.

"There's a lot of people who say there's police brutality and stuff, but I've noticed that they're not really brutal. They're only brutal if they have to be when somebody provokes them," said Northview eleventh grader, Tilley Dombroski.

But Captain Ott stressed that at the heart of every police officer is a human being, one who wants to be treated with respect and dignity.

"Just follow the commands, be polite and do what he asks you to do. There are reasons the officer is asking you to do certain things," said Ott.

Advice which could lead to a better understanding between police and those they serve.

"Bridging the Gap" is the first youth program to be implemented by all 56 FBI divisions.

Thursday's participants were chosen because they are leaders in their schools.

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