TULSA, Okla. (AP) — High schooler Katherine Kimbrel told a deputy chief that she felt frustrated by his presence in her school because police seem to enjoy intimidating and talking down to people.
That was Project Trust's first day in March at Phoenix Rising Alternative School in north Tulsa. Six months later, the 19-year-old sat in a conference room at Tulsa police headquarters with that same deputy chief, Jonathan Brooks.
She wasn't in trouble, and her message had changed.
"I think it's a great thing that they're doing," Kimbrel told the Tulsa World recently during that meeting. "And obviously it has a big impact on some of the kids. I've kind of based what I'm doing with my life right now off of life experiences I had during that project."
That's right. Kimbrel wants to be a police officer. She is enrolled at Tulsa Community College to major in criminal justice.
She emailed Brooks a week earlier to interview someone who has her dream job for a public speaking project.
"I think I was in a little shock. I was extremely amazed and proud, almost like a proud father," Brooks said. "You spend time with these students and you develop a relationship with these students. And you see that has changed their mind about policing in such a drastic manner that they want to be in it."
Project Trust is a nine-week Tulsa police program that explores civics and policing in hour-long sessions once a week in which officers try to cultivate positive relationships. The program was developed as an outreach partnership with Tulsa Public Schools after the fatal shooting of Terence Crutcher, with another school to be chosen this month for later this fall.
Phoenix Rising — a restorative school serving students in grades ninth through 12th, who are in or at high risk for involvement in the criminal justice system — was Project Trust's fourth school.
There were 20 students who took pre- and post-program surveys anonymously to gauge its effects. Eighteen indicated their opinions of police had improved.
There were 13 positive or negative statements about police on the surveys and average scores went up.
On a seven-point scale, two questions improved a full point: Police officers are well-trained overall; Some police officers lie or plant fake evidence just to get people in trouble.
The first question went from "neutral" to "somewhat agree." The latter went from being closer to "somewhat agree" to between "neutral" and "somewhat disagree."
"It means to me that the investment in spending time with youth is extremely worthwhile," Brooks said, also noting the chance to educate them on the high standard of Tulsa police operations and standards.
However, the survey still underscores the challenges of building trust.
A question about whether the student feels officers are honest averaged between "somewhat disagree" and "neutral."
"What that shows to me — in combination with the other results — is although we are making progress there is still a lot of work to do breaking down those barriers and perceptions that people have about policing and the profession," Brooks said. "And for us, it's about having that transparency about who policemen are and what they do."
In one of the program's final lessons in early May, students spent half a day at the SkyWay Leadership Institute at The HelmZar Challenge Course. The facility is the base of operations for the Tulsa Police Athletic League.
Students participated in games inside the gym, where they also took on one of the indoor challenge obstacle courses because of rainy weather.
"I think it's a really powerful thing when the officers were all wearing their uniforms when they came in to see how (students') perceptions change throughout the day," said Liz Bateman, a SkyWay Leadership instructor. "Because when (the officers) got into their civilian clothes and laughed with them and played with them, they got to see them more as a person. And for the officers to see the kids in a new way, too, I think is certainly important."
Bateman and another instructor were focused on instilling confidence, communication skills and teamwork through experiential learning. They played games called Jedi Knight and Samurai Warrior that involved physical activity, communication and strategy.
After each game, the instructors involved the students in a group discussion about how the game unfolded and how certain aspects or skills might apply in real life.
Bateman had to amend her own rules to a puzzle-solving game after one student "broke the game" by devising an ingenuous strategy.
"I've never had anyone do that," Bateman told the group. "It's brilliant."
During her interview with Brooks at TPD headquarters a week ago, Kimbrel told him how many people haven't supported her decision to pursue a law enforcement career.
Brooks responded with a traffic ticket story from his youth and how he held an unfavorable view of police. He often would think, "Man, I wish they'd change how they did stuff."
"What's the real way to change it? You join the team and change it from the inside," Brooks said. "And that's kind of what I did."
Kimbrel recalled the Project Trust tour of TPD's training academy. She said it felt like she wanted to be there and help people.
"I really learned to look at it from the police point of view," Kimbrel said. "A lot of people assume they are robots, but they have feelings. They're people, too. They're put in dangerous situations every day."
Information from: Tulsa World, http://www.tulsaworld.com