When can a police officer seize your phone? How long can he keep your property? Under what circumstances can an officer ask you to step out of your car or search you?
While these legal issues can be complicated, and the answers may vary from state to state, students of Lighthouse Christian Academy are more prepared to deal with them thanks to Santa Rosa Sheriff’s Office Capt. Doug Bringmans.
Bringmans volunteers to give classroom talks every Wednesday and Friday during the school’s Criminal Justice enrichment course.
One purpose, he said, is to make students more comfortable about interacting with police.
“I want to take some of the fear out of dealing with law enforcement,” he said. “We have had over the last couple of years some negative publicity, not for Santa Rosa County, but as a nation, for law enforcement. I think reaching out to people, especially kids at this age, it sets a better tone for when they get older. It is a good place to start.”
Student Isaac Tullis, 17, agrees that police have gotten some bad publicity lately.
“The cops nowadays have a bad rap. They have a very negative persona that the media portrays,” Tullis said.
In 2016, a Gallup Poll found that 41 percent of adults under the age of 35 have less than “a great deal of respect” for local law enforcement. It is worth noting that the majority of adults across all subgroups said they had a “great deal of respect” for local law enforcement.
“I just want these kids to have a better understanding of what to expect when dealing with law enforcement–what they can and can’t do, and what law enforcement can and can’t do,” Bringmans said.
Lighthouse Principal Kimberly Rowe said that having a real person in front of the class is valuable.
“It is real. It’s not textbook,” Rowe said. “When you see it on paper that is one thing. Even to watch a video on the TV is one thing, but to have someone here who has lived it, experienced it and talk about real-life situations, it makes it more tangible for them.”
And the talks are giving the students greater respect for police.
Tullis said he feels confident that local law enforcement agencies are doing the right thing, a sentiment echoed by several of his classmates. Students have brought up concerns, including questions regarding incidents they have heard about from their parents, and are now able to see things from the perspective of an officer.
“It is sad that there are bad cops out there. There are some, but you can’t blame all of law enforcement,” Tullis said.
More than just improving public opinion, the talks by the deputy are teaching the students about their rights and what limitations are placed on officers.
“We are going over our rights, the Second Amendment and the First Amendment. We are just going over the Fourth now,” Tullis said. “It’s good to hear from an actual deputy officer his point of view on what he can do and what he can’t. It is something we need to learn.”
Classmate Rachael Sap, 16, agreed.
“It helps us prepare for the world we are going to go into,” Sap said. “No teenager that I know is going to sit down and read a law book or manual for hours in the afternoon, so it gives you a time to discuss it and truly learn what it is to live in our society and what our rights are and how it works.”
The Criminal Justice course is one of many offered at Lighthouse. The class incorporates lessons on psychology into the curriculum as well.
Student Brooke Rowe, 17, said she has enjoyed the class.
Criminal justice and psychology “go hand-in-hand. On the days (Bringmans) comes in, we learn about criminal justice, and on the other we learn about psychology,” she said.
Those lessons include how mental disorders affect behavior and how the legal system handles mental illness.
Principal Rowe said she wants students to broaden their horizons through these courses, including the possibility of considering careers in law enforcement.
“It is so important for them to dabble in many different fields, so that they have a taste of what is out there,” she said. “Right now I don’t think they even know what they want to do when they get out of high school. To allow these enrichment classes allows them to have a taste of the variety out there.”
When asked if he hopes to see the class lead to a future in law enforcement for some of these teenagers, Bringmans said he would not mind that.
“It would be nice when they grow up that they show interest in criminal justice, whether it is law enforcement or corrections or probation or any of the branches that are involved,” he said. “That would be nice, but it is not the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is to teach them a little bit more about how our world works and to show them our human side. We are not here just to punish.”
Featured in the April 27 issue of Navarre Press. Subscribe online at navarrepress.com for as little as $38 per year.