HOUSTON, Texas – Harris County Sheriff Ron Hickman traveled to the far northwest corner of the county to meet with a group of troubled teens. He went to teach, but also learn. He went to listen to people who are accustomed to not being heard.
Sheriff Hickman visited the TAPS Academy in Hockley, Texas, located just northwest of Houston on U.S. 290. The TAPS Academy is home to nearly 100 teens between 13- and 17-years old who have been convicted of adult crimes, Hickman told Breitbart Texas on Saturday. Both boys and girls live at the academy.
The sheriff said he wanted to learn from them what they believed brought them to the place they are now. “Early in my career,” Hickman explained, “I spent quite some time working in the lower demographic areas of Houston — Sunnyside, several of the Ward areas, as well as the East end barrios — so I wanted to get some perceptions of what they believed brought them there to that place, to that station in life, and if they believed there was a way out.”
The first step for Hickman and his command staff who traveled to the academy was to disarm before entering the locked-down facility. “The advantage of this was that we could relate to them as human beings, as people,” he said.
He asked one of the teens, “Why are you here?” The teen responded that he didn’t want to talk about it. After he explained he wasn’t asking about the crime that brought them to this building, he repeated the question, “Why are you here? As in, what do you want to learn while you are here?”
The academy student answered he was there “to do better and improve myself.” Hickman continued the conversation asking the young boy what he wanted to accomplish in life, what was his plan?
Some of the boys said they were in the academy by accident. One told the sheriff he took the rap for another person. “That’s not an accident, it’s a choice,” Hickman responded. He explained the impact of choices and told the students they would have an opportunity to make a fresh start by making new choices when they walked out of the academy after graduation.
“I spent the better part of two hours just talking direct to them, just like they were men, regular human beings, worthy of the time and investment of resources to try to salvage,” the Harris County sheriff explained.” Fortunately for this group, many will get that second chance. What they do with it will depends entirely on the kinds of choices they make going forward. I hope the investment pays off”
Hickman said many of the teens were curious about his uniform including the rank and gold hash marks on his sleeves. He explained each of the 9 hash marks represent 5 years of service as a police officer. He has served in law enforcement for 45 years.
That led to the question of why he became a cop in the first place. Hickman explained that his friends led him into the profession. He said they told him of the opportunity that came with the authority. The opportunity to make a change in people’s lives.
The other common question he said he received from the students was about interacting with police officers on the street. In the wake of the shootings of blacks by police and the shooting of 5 Dallas-area police officers by a black man, that question brought a lot of opportunity for the sheriff.
“Clearly many of them didn’t have a proper home life and were raised on the streets lacking proper guidance and supervision, many probably had issues with authority,” Hickman began. “I explained about how to interact with police — that we were just people and by showing basic respect you could easily get the same. In most cases, the police will give as much respect as you allow them to by your behavior and reactions. A reasonable approach will get you a reasonable response.”
In an interview with Fox 26’ Andrea Watkins after the visit, Hickman said a more pointed question was asked about the police killing innocent people.
“I’m not a big fan,” the sheriff replied. He said there were some quiet chuckles as the he paused. “But first and foremost, we’ve got to define innocent,” he continued. “What did they do that caused them to be killed by the officer? Usually it’s an encounter, right? So, what we encourage people to do, is, when you encounter an officer, if you comply with what they ask you to do, then we generally won’t have the problems.”
Hickman told Breitbart Texas that Dr. Everette Penn does a great job with these young people. He said he met Dr. Penn at a Pray for Police breakfast some time back and then looked into the TAPS Academy. After learning more about the program, he committed to provide some resources and people to help
He now had seven or eight members of his staff helping out by spending hours each week in service to these youth offenders.
Hickman said he hopes his people can help make a difference. As for the question of police officers and private citizens getting along better? Hickman told Watkins “I think we can do a lot better. All of us.” He reminded people of President Obama’s words at the memorial service for the Dallas police officers who were killed. Obama said, “We ask too much of the police, and too little of the community.”
In response to the sheriff’s visit, Dr. Penn told Watkins, “They think more highly of police officers, and their idea of being involved in crime goes down.”
Hickman told Breitbart Texas his visit was planned before the news of the recent shootings took place. He was unable to attend the student’s graduation from the academy because of an out-of-town engagement.
Bob Price serves as associate editor and senior political news contributor for Breitbart Texas and is a member of the original Breitbart Texas team. Follow him on Twitter @BobPriceBBTX.