Davidson Day Student Premiers Program on Best Practices for Youth in Police Encounters
Davidson Day School junior Carson Pauling wants everyone–especially her young friends–to Get WOKE (Working On Knowledge and Empowerment) to make sure encounters between police officers and citizens are safe for everyone.
Pauling developed the Get WOKE curriculum with Davidson Police Chief Penny Dunn, and presented it last week in Town Hall to an audience of about 30 students, their mothers and police officers.
Pauling, a lifelong Davidson resident, said her participation in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department youth advisory council prompted her to develop the Get WOKE initiative. She began piecing together aspects of the project in 2018 with support from Davidson police chief Penny Dunn. Pauling explained that the Get WOKE initiative employs education as the primary tool to prevent interactions with police from escalating. She said, “After seeing all the negative encounters with police in the media, especially those involving youth, I wanted to do something to help solve this issue. My goal for the program is to present the perspectives of both law enforcers and citizens.”
The ultimate goal, she said, is to provide young people with the knowledge necessary to properly interact with law enforcement officers and help prevent violence.
Officer Nick Boeckler helped develop the session, and participated in Pauling’s event. He began by showing two videos of a simulated traffic stop. In one, the officer and the offender were courteous. In the second segment, the offender was loud, boisterous and rude. “It’s all about how you talk to people,” Boeckler said. “You’re not going to win an argument with a police officer on the street. We are trained to use a calm tone of voice to keep an encounter from escalating.”
In endorsing the program, Chief Dunn said a higher level of understanding between police and young people would be a valuable asset when events require law enforcement response. “We believe and strive to practice respect and dignity in our interactions with all members of the community,” Dunn said. “But that doesn’t mean an encounter with an officer will always go well. There could be misunderstandings in any interaction, and police encounters are no different.”
Pauling noted, “Davidson hasn’t really had to deal with the type of issues that have occurred in some other communities, but that doesn’t mean it can’t happen here.”
The Get WOKE seminar included a question-and-answer session in which Charlotte lawyer Henderson Hill emphasized that alleged offenders have rights as well. “Be respectful, but know your rights,” he said.
For instance, Hill said state law does not require persons being stopped to physically hand their driver’s license to an officer. Merely holding it against the car window where an officer can see it upholds the law. He also suggested that drivers not allow officers to search the car without proper warrant. Additionally, Henderson pointed out that it is perfectly legal for a driver to video an encounter. However, in all instances the person being stopped should speak to the officer courteously. “The most important thing a driver can do is ask the officer, “Do you mind if I…?”
Pauling said she hopes the Davidson event is the first of more Get WOKE programs. “The goal is for this to be the start, the first step,” she said. “I wanted this important conversation to get started.”