Students Study To Become Police Officers At Phoenix Magnet School

Nov 23, 2016
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Lots of high schools let students develop specialties in foreign languages, the sciences or the arts. A high school in Phoenix lets students focus on a more unusual subject - policing. From member station KJZZ, Naomi Gingold reports.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Good morning, Franklin.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENTS: Good morning, sir.

NAOMI GINGOLD, BYLINE: This is morning assembly at Franklin Police and Fire High School.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Unintelligible).

GINGOLD: The Phoenix public school has about 300 students. Junior year, they join one of two tracks, training to become either firemen or police officers. The law enforcement track is a bit more popular.

ALEJANDRINA GARCIA: My goal is to become an officer and then from there move on to become, like, a domestic violence detective and make my way up to SWAT team.

GINGOLD: Alejandrina Garcia is a junior and, like many here, decided way before junior year what she wanted to do in life. Second period, the juniors in her track have law enforcement class.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENTS: One.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Down.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENTS: Two.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Down.

UNIDENTIFIED STUDENTS: Three.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Down.

GINGOLD: Half does the daily training first - running and climbing walls wearing heavy police belts.

UNIDENTIFIED GIRL: Stop - police. Do not turn around.

GINGOLD: A couple of students demonstrate how to make arrests. Upstairs, teacher Andrew Viduare shows a news story about a police officer who didn't use her gun when making an arrest for fear of public disapproval. The officer ended up in the hospital. Vidaure, who is a former state trooper, then answers questions.

ANDREW VIDAURE: Tasers have to come in contact with two of the body to carry the current. Somebody said tase them in the face - negative. The head is always off-limits in defensive technique.

GINGOLD: One junior in the class is Anahi Corea-Apodaca. She spent part of her childhood in Mexico.

ANAHI COREA-APODACA: I saw a lot of violence, and I had to, like, basically take care of myself.

GINGOLD: Today, she wants to be a homicide detective. She's a top student at Franklin, and many here are like her - focused, driven. And also like Corea-Apodaca, 90 percent of students here are Latino. Her family isn't enthusiastic about her career choice. They've said to her...

COREA-APODACA: What? You want to be, like, a police officer? They're bad. They hurt people. And they thought that I was kind of, like, going to go out and, like, arrest Mexicans and stuff, and I was just going to become one of them - like, one of the bad cops.

GINGOLD: There are also students at Franklin who are undocumented or are residents, but not citizens. And you can't be a police officer in the U.S. if you're not a citizen, but they say one day, they'll get there. Dr. Tom Nerini is the school guidance counselor.

TOM NERINI: Some of our students are here because they're interested in being part of law and fire and public service. But sometimes they're here just it's a small school.

GINGOLD: Students actually can't go to the police academy in Phoenix until they're 20 and a half, so the emphasis here is on college. Franklin has a perfect graduation rate. Students earn a lot in college scholarships. And whatever career they choose, students are taking what they've learned here about policing beyond these walls. Anahi Corea-Apodaca, the junior who wants to be a homicide detective, has become an ambassador of sorts. She now makes sure to point out to her family examples of bad policing.

COREA-APODACA: They shouldn't be doing this. This is what they should be doing. And when a cop does something good, I tell them this is a good example.

GINGOLD: In class, they talk about good and bad practices, bad apples in the system, but a formal conversation about implicit bias and institutional racism isn't happening in the classroom. But students, especially students of color, do think about it. Corea-Apodaca says we're all raised with stereotypes, but they just make things worse.

COREA-APODACA: If we educate ourselves first within our classroom, we can go and bring it out into our community, and little by little, we'll be changing everyone's mindsets. And so we can stop this police brutality, and we can also, like, stop people from thinking the police are bad.

GINGOLD: In other words, to improve modern policing, they start by becoming better police themselves. For NPR News, I'm Naomi Gingold in Phoenix. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.