This week, in an American Graduate series called “The First Week,” we’ve been listening to conversations about race after a summer of racial turmoil in America and police shootings in Dallas. We’ve heard from parents, students and a teacher. Today, it's Gregg Anderson, a school resource officer who’s building relationships in the Carrollton-Farmers Branch school district.
It’s the first week of class at R.L. Turner High School, and not everyone’s learned their way around.
Students walk up to Anderson with that look of ‘Where am I going?’
“Is this the way to the choir room?” a male student asks.
“Yes,” Anderson says and proceeds to give him directions.
In this role, Anderson finds he isn’t just a cop who’s there to protect kids from harm. He’s part traffic conductor, part counselor and part friend.
“What’s up Naomi? How are you doing?” he says to a student as she walks by.
“Good and you?” she says.
He jokingly asks her, “How come you ignored me at lunch?”
Naomi tells him she was sitting with her friends, not ignoring him. He laughs.
Anderson says that kind of camaraderie is crucial, especially after a summer of police shootings and racial tensions.
The student body at R. L. Turner is nearly 90 percent minority and most are Hispanic. His last job was at a mostly white school.
He says being a white cop in this school hasn’t really been a problem.
“There’s been the times where you talk to kids in the hallway and you have a kid that throws his hands up in the air and says ‘Don’t shoot me,’” he says. “And you’re simply talking to him in the hallway about skipping class, but I mean really that is very rare and few and far between.”
Anderson says school resource officers are in an unusual position. They’re there to build relationships and they can change how students see law enforcement.
“A majority of the time their interactions or their perception of a police officer is based on maybe what they’ve seen in the media, what their parents have told them or because their parents maybe are frustrated because they came home and got a traffic ticket on the way home,” he says.
Anderson’s been a cop for two decades. Half of that time he’s worked in schools. This is his second year at R. L. Turner, and he’s still getting to know students there.
His office doesn’t look like a police station.
There’s the Texas Longhorns paraphernalia, a Jack Johnson concert print and posters from the Batman movies, the Christopher Nolan directed ones.
“I’m more than just a police officer,” Anderson says. “They need to realize, too, that when I get off from work and I go home, I’m not walking around with my uniform on. Typically, I put on t-shirts, shorts and flip flops…I do like to go watch movies. I do like to do this. I actually have a love of surfing.”
This summer’s killings of cops have weighed on him. He knows the job is risky. Going into danger is what guys like him do. And these days, his guard is up more than usual.
After the Dallas shootings though, a few kids came up to him at Starbucks to shake his hand and say how much they appreciate him.
Back in the hallway, kids head to their next class.
“Good morning, Carl,” he calls out to a student.
“Good morning,” Carl responds.
“How are y’all doing?” he asks.
For a high school, Turner’s not very loud or rowdy. During this first week, Anderson says, students are more like “the walking dead,” especially in the mornings.
“I’ll tell kids…you know, ‘My goal is to get y’all across that stage at the end of the year,” he says. “It’s not to put you in jail. It’s to make you successful.’ ”
That also means putting students at ease when they see a cop.