COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Too many times, the first time a teenager meets a police officer is during an emergency.
A program in place in Columbus City Schools is called T.A.P.S, the Teens and Police Service Academy. The program is working to get both police officers and teens familiar with each other in a positive non-confrontational setting.
Columbus Police worked with students providing a mentoring program that targets issues teens are faced with.
Eighteen Hilltonia Middle School students met with police officers in the school library every Tuesday for 11 weeks, with the goal of building relationships.
“The past 10, 11, 12 weeks whatever it was, I don’t remember, it has been exceptional and we are up here today to tell you some of the most amazing things that can happen to you, and also some of the worst. Making bad decision can be terrible,” said Jaivon Culpepper.
Culpepper graduated from the TAPS program with his fellow students and was the speaker for the group. He had written a speech and tossed it aside at the podium and just spoke from his heart.
“I loved the program, meeting the officer was amazing, it was really a fun thing to do,” Culpepper said afterward.
“The fact that we were able to come in and make a difference with some of these kids, and the preconceived notions some of them had about not only officers but the law,” said Sgt. Kim Edley. “I plan on being involved with them after this program ends and checking on them.”
I hope they know they can always contact me,” Edley added.
All of the police officers in this program volunteered to work with students.
Culpepper said middle school is terribly hard. He sid he has been bullied in the past.
Officials said the idea is that teens get to know and trust police officers and see them as people they can trust and as role models, not just an authority figure with a uniform and badge.
“There has been a difference in their behavior, there has been a difference in their expectations of themselves and setting goals for themselves,” said Joyce Albright, Hilltonia Middle School Principal.
The T.A.P.S program allows students and officers to talk about ways to deal with bullying, truancy, drugs and gangs, among other things.
On January 25th at 10:30am, students at Johnson Park Middle School, will graduate from the program. Each Academy started the program with 25 students in grades 6-7-8th grade. Students for the program are identified by teachers and administrators at the school.
T.A.P.S. is a program in partnership with the Franklin County Juvenile Court and the Columbus Department of Public Safety. It is designed for at-risk youth, based upon a program created in Houston, Texas to build positive, interpersonal relationships between students and police officers.