Photo by Heather Middleton
By Joel Hall
Before joining the Clayton County Police Department's Teens Initiating Change (TIC) program, rising Lovejoy High School sophomore, Michael McLamb, had never had a personal relationship with a police officer.
"I had just seen them on TV pretty much," McLamb said. "It [the program] has given me a different outlook on the police."
McLamb is one of several students participating in the TIC program this summer. From now until July 30, the students -- between the ages of 14 and 17 -- will learn about the law, how to conduct themselves around police officers, and how the community works, largely through course work, as well as roundtable discussions with a number of community leaders.
Clayton Police Officer India Smith, who has run the TIC program for the police department for two years, started a similar program, in 1998, for the Savannah-Chatham Metropolitan Police Department, and reproduced it with the Riverdale Police Department from 2002, to 2008.
She said TIC, which started as second-chance program for troubled boys, eventually evolved into an accountability program for boys and girls from a variety of backgrounds. "A lot of people think about police department programs being for bad kids," Smith said. "This isn't boot camp. This is really to get kids out into the community. A lot of these kids don't know how a community works. I think if they understand the community, they'll take care of it better."
The first day of this year's program was June 11, Smith said. Over the next several weeks, she said, students will delve into a 33-lesson curriculum provided by the National Crime Prevention Council, in which they will learn: the difference between felonies and misdemeanors; the difference between personal crime and property crime; the trouble associated with gangs; how to prevent teen-dating violence; how to conduct oneself when a police officers reports to the scene; and other topics.
In addition to course work, students are also scheduled to take a tour of the Clayton County Water Authority; participate in ropes courses; and visit with county leaders, including District Attorney Tracy Graham Lawson, Chief Magistrate Judge Daphne Walker, and Clayton County Fleet Maintenance Director, and Director of Policy and Planning Wade Starr.
"Everybody can't be that football star or rap star," Smith said. "They need to get connections with real people in the community."
Officer La'Sandra Arnold, a school resource officer at Mt. Zion High School, serves as an instructor in the TIC program. She said it helps students with their decision-making skills. "It teaches teens how to react in certain situations ... it teaches them how to diffuse certain situations," Arnold said. "[It's] young people learning how to work together, young people learning how to be young adults."
Angelena Johnson, 15, a rising sophomore at North Clayton High School, said that, because the program brings together public school students as well as some students in the juvenile court system, it has taught her how to get along with many types of individuals.
She said she has also learned how to work with local authorities. "I guess I thought police were kind of stand-off-ish and didn't want to work with the community, but that has changed a lot since I came here," she said.
Smith said the program is still accepting students until the end of this week. For more information, call (770) 603-4180.