Students enrolled in Cartersville High School's new law and public safety pathway have received firsthand knowledge about the foundation of police work.
Lt. Mike Bettikofer from the Cartersville Police Department spoke to law and public safety teacher Chad Murray's third- and seventh-period criminal justice classes Friday about the history of law enforcement as well as Sir Robert Peel's Nine Principles of Policing.
"I'm not an expert really on any topic, but I know a little bit more about some of these topics than others, and this is one I really don't know anything about, which is policing," Murray told his students. "Who better to talk to you guys about policing and the history of law enforcement than a law enforcement officer himself?"
During the 50-minute class, Bettikofer talked about law enforcement in America and encouraged the students to ask questions about issues they've heard about on TV or social media.
The 20-year police veteran said policing is pretty much the same as it was when Peel formulated his principles in 1829.
"They still apply today because people are people," he said. "Our job hasn't changed in 200-and-something years. It's the same job as it ever was. We just add more technology into it, and you add different problems than the problems they had back in the day."
Bettikofer explained that communities handled issues like safeguarding property and merchandise on their own until Boston created the first publicly funded police department in 1838.
"That means that they were getting paid; they had authority under the city of Boston; and essentially they were there for the shipyards," he said. "They didn't handle a lot of things that we handle now [like domestic disputes, traffic and drugs]. Initially what they had to deal with was just safeguarding property and making sure the town drunk got home, and that was pretty much it."
As the country continued to expand its borders, police departments began having more responsibilities that required different types of training and different sets of laws to uphold, Bettikofer said.
The growth also created a need for a national law enforcement agency, leading to the creation of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1908, he said.
"They needed to put something together, especially to investigate those crimes that went from one state into another or that cross in from one country to the other," he said.
Bettikofer said police agencies generally follow the principles set forth by Peel, who founded the London Metropolitan Police Department in 1829 and was the reason the officers were called "bobbies."
As a side note, the lieutenant said the bobbies' primary job is to keep the peace so the majority of them don't carry guns, and he asked the students what they thought about that.
"Maybe if they don't, then they pose less of a threat, but they also need something to defend themselves with," freshman Trent Morris said. "If they're trying to keep the peace, and they make the community feel threatened, it would just make it worse. It would make the community feel uncomfortable and more threatened if they have a gun and they're trying to use that as power."
One student said she understood why the bobbies wouldn't be armed, but she thought they needed to be intimidating to people they encountered who were armed.
"If the bobby didn't have a gun, but the person he was talking to had a gun, that person's not going to listen to him because he's the one with the gun," she said. "He's in control of the situation because he has the gun."
Bettikofer said most people at that time didn't carry handguns at that time "so bobbies kind of reflected what the community had going on."
He also talked about police officers and the use of force, which has been making headlines recently.
"What's the big thing about police officers now?" he asked. "They're just shooting everybody. They've got guns, and they're shooting everyone."
Nationally, the most recent use-of-force statistics show 98.9985 percent of the 67 million encounters that put individuals in contact with law enforcement "never escalated outside of just handcuffing somebody to get them under control," Bettikofer said.
Force was used 1 percent of the time when attempting to make an arrest, and 0.0015 percent of these encounters resulted in death from use of force, he said.
"But how do see that on the news?" he said. "Daily and weekly, right? It's the Wild West out there, right?"
He urged the students to keep an open mind and get information from all sides before making up their minds about alleged use-of-force situations.
Bettikofer also went over Peel's nine principles with the class.
Principle 1 — “The basic mission for which the police exist is to prevent crime and disorder.”
"Crime was defined by the community, and still to this day, crime is defined by the community," he said. "Disorder is anything that's going to disrupt people's peaceful existence."
Principle 2 — “The ability of the police to perform their duties is dependent upon public approval of police actions.”
"We have to look at the community and see what the community says to us what's acceptable and not acceptable," he said.
Principle 3 — “Police must secure the willing cooperation of the public in voluntary observance of the law to be able to secure and maintain the respect of the public.”
"We have to have willing cooperation from the public," he said, noting a small police force can't control a large population without people voluntarily obeying the law. "And we've got to maintain the respect of the public, and right now that's hard to do."
Principle 4 — “The degree of cooperation of the public that can be secured diminishes proportionately to the necessity of the use of physical force.”
"Right now, our use of force is extremely low, and it always has been extremely low," he said. "We look at those things constantly as a department."
Principle 5 — “Police seek and preserve public favor not by catering to the public opinion but by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law.”
"We have to be above reproach on this stuff," he said. "When we do something, it has to be right 100 percent of the time. We have to be impartial on everything we do."
Principle 6 — “Police use physical force to the extent necessary to secure observance of the law or to restore order only when the exercise of persuasion, advice and warning is found to be insufficient."
"I want to make sure that I make it home so what I want to do is I want to control that situation," he said, noting the best way to do that is to put suspects in handcuffs until the facts are sorted out.
Bettikofer ran out of time before he could finish the last three principles:
Principle 7 — “Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.”
Principle 8 — “Police should always direct their action strictly towards their functions and never appear to usurp the powers of the judiciary.”
Principle 9 — “The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it.”
Trent had a special interest in what Bettikofer was saying.
"I found it very interesting because I'm going to try to get into the FBI, and he had some very valid points," he said. "I just found it really interesting how we just cooperated and just spoke our different opinions about the topic."
Bettikofer said he thought the interaction with the students was "amazing."
"It seems that kids now are smarter and more mature than they ever have been in some ways, the way they communicated and asked questions," he said. "The dialogue was good."
Teaching students about criminal justice before they're adults is key, according to Bettikofer and Murray.
"I think it's important that we are involved in the community, especially at a school-age level, especially a high school level, to make sure that we're getting out there and answering any kind of questions that they might have," Bettikofer said. "I think it's important to establish that relationship really early."
"I think the better we understand the mission and the goals of law enforcement at an earlier age, then it's better for everybody," Murray added.
The instructor also said he thought Bettikofer's presentation was "great."
"I just don't think 50 minutes is enough," he said. "Once the students start to open up and start asking those questions that they really want to ask, then you can literally spend all day with them, answering questions and talking about it."