The St. Louis Police Department rebuilds relationships between police and children in the community in the midst of a changing gang culture.
By Kristen Farrah
ST. LOUIS – Detective John Leggette answered a radio call for a mother assaulting her husband. She was armed. Leggette’s partner took out his taser while the children cried and the husband continued to bleed.
In the middle of the standoff, one of the children yelled to her mother “Mom, don’t do that, detective Leggette is not like that. . . he teaches us about violence, mom. Please don’t do that.”
Leggette recognized the child from his Gang Resistance Education And Training (G.R.E.A.T) class. He said that one child changed the entire situation. His partner put the taser away and arrested the mother without an aggressive altercation.
“In that chaotic moment, that child was able to bring calm because of the relationship that she had established with me,” Leggette said.
The G.R.E.A.T program started in 2005 in the St. Louis Police Department’s Juvenile Division. It tapered off after two years. The department decided to reboot the program three years ago and include more of the police department.
G.R.E.A.T teaches elementary students about bullying, cyberbullying and touches on situations occurring in the students’ neighborhoods. The program lasts seven weeks and the students meet one time per week.
The G.R.E.A.T organization outlines a curriculum the certified officers follow for the seven weeks.
Police Sgt. Leonard Day coordinates the program and looks over the finances. Day said the curriculum is extremely strict. Officers attend a three-day course to become certified.
“It breaks that barrier down to where kids really start to look at us as human beings,” Day said.
Police Lt. Kimberly Allen commands the detectives who teach the program. She said the program builds a bond between the students and the officers, and breaks down the initial apprehension towards the officers. Allen said kids who go through the program remember her five or six years down the road.
Leggette recently graduated his third class at Oak Hill Elementary. He performed “Greatest Love of All” by Whitney Houston and joined in the pizza party following the graduation.
“There’s no greater opportunity than to be able to do that and impact children so that they can impact others in their community,” Leggette said.