EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the second in a series of monthly articles about local law enforcement officers.
Anyone who thinks of a D.A.R.E. presentation as just that – a presentation – may be surprised at the interaction between a group of fifth graders and a police officer.
For an entire hour, Jodi Schumacher’s students at Eisenhower School were asking and answering questions, and happily participating in several activities.
Even when Great Bend Police Department Officer Jefferson Davis was trying to shoo the youngsters off to lunch, several were sticking around to chat.
Davis, who has been the USD 428 liaison officer since 2010, has become a familiar face throughout the district. He has an office at Great Bend High School and makes regular, announced and unannounced visits to classrooms.
“The Drug Abuse Resistance Education program is an especially enjoyable part of my job,” Davis said. “We want to help youngsters learn to stand up against the misuse of drugs, alcohol and tobacco. We challenge them to think about everything they put into their bodies.”
To illustrate a lesson, Davis asked the children to do jumping jacks, run in place, and jump up and down for three minutes. Most did just fine.
A while later they did the same exercises for only one minute while breathing through a straw to simulate what smoking does to lung capacity. Many had to slow down or stop before the 60 seconds lapsed.
The students then took turns in a DUI goggles exercise. Before wearing the goggles that impair vision, the youngsters walked a straight line with ease. That didn’t happen while sporting the goggles.
“You aren’t on the line,” Davis said to the participants, all of whom teetered, lurched, swayed and came close to falling down. “Imagine driving a car like that. See how alcohol takes away your ability to perform simple functions?”
Davis is not naïve enough to think that D.A.R.E will prevent all abuse and addiction problems. “I know the effectiveness of D.A.R.E. has been debated, and I don’t know all the answers,” he said. “But I do know we are building strong bonds with young people. Maybe they will think twice.
“We want them to know we are not scary or imposing figures; we are approachable,” he added.
While D.A.R.E. is a priority, it is far from the officer’s only responsibility. Davis also coordinates the Youth Academy every summer for seventh and eighth graders.
“We take them to every city department and even show them a SWAT team demonstration,” Davis said. “They always want to see the handcuffs and other equipment.
“They end up dragging hoses around with the fire department and visiting animals at the zoo,” he continued. “This gives them a behind-the-scenes look. We want them to understand what it takes to run a city and maybe develop leadership skills.”
In addition, Davis assumed a new responsibility late last year when he began coordinating the officer-in-the-lunchroom program. Great Bend police officers visit schools on a rotating basis to eat lunch with the kids.
“It’s a really neat thing,” Davis said. “They will get accustomed to seeing us. The goal is to show that we are real people.
“After one lunch recently,” Davis recalled, “a little girl asked me if I knew there are girl cops too. Visiting with one of our female officers really made an impression.”
Another responsibility in the life of Officer Davis is taking police calls at schools whenever possible.
“This benefits me and the kids. I already have the rapport with them,” he explained. “Usually these calls are of a sensitive nature – maybe involving abuse or neglect, or maybe a couple of teenagers in a fight.
“Even if the situation is uncomfortable, they recognize me,” he said. “Teachers and administrators are a big help and I consider them friends.”
Davis was born in Great Bend and after graduation from Fort Scott High School, he enrolled in Barton Community College where he earned an associate’s degree in criminal justice.
“I was fortunate enough to get hired here in 2003,” he commented, noting he was a patrolman for several years. “I have family here and this has been a good choice. Great Bend has a progressive police department and we are glad to be here.”
The “we” in Davis’ life includes his wife, Amanda, and their two sons; J.T. is 10 and Jackson is 7. They attend Park School.
“Amanda is very understanding of my job,” Davis said. “I met her while I was at the police academy at Yoder. So, law enforcement has always been there. She knew what she was getting into.
“Amanda is accepting because she knows I am helping other families,” he said. “She is proud we can support the community in this fashion.”
As for their sons, Davis said the particulars of his job don’t even enter their minds. “They don’t think of the inherent danger,” he said. “My dad was in the fire service and I thought he was the greatest firefighter ever. When he went out the door, the possibility of him getting hurt never dawned on me.”
Davis also has to leave home unexpectedly to help someone but, now and then, the person comes to his house. Students have been known to knock on his door for guidance.
“Maybe a kid is arguing with mom, maybe a kid wants to run away,” Davis explained. “A sixth grader came over because her parents were getting a divorce. And she didn’t know who to talk to. This shows me the trust is there.”