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Relating to students through sneakers: Sumter school resource officers wearing Nike Jordans to build rapport

School resource officers in Sumter have added Nike Jordan 1s to their uniforms. The initiative is an attempt to relate more with students to spark conversations.

SUMTER, S.C. — School resource officers in Sumter are trying to relate more to their students and spark up conversations through sneakers. Nike Jordan 1s are now a part of their uniform.

"There’s no way they have Jordan 1s on right now," senior Kerrington Pinckney remembers thinking when she saw her school resource officers wearing Jordans. "Like who put them on? Who told them that these things were cool?"

According to Officer April Beaudet, Pinckney isn’t the only one.

"The first day we wore the shoes it was like right off the bat, all the kids were walking by going, “Look at their kicks! Look at their shoes!” Beaudet smiles.

"I saw it and then I bought it up to my friends," sophomore Tyler Washington says. "People like always gravitate towards…shoes are the big thing now."

For students like Washington, the shoes are a common ground.

"The Jordan 1 is my favorite 'cuz there’s so many colorways. I have at least almost all the colors of the rainbow," Washington shares. "I feel like [the officers are] noticing us."

That relatability was exactly what the Sumter Police Department was hoping to achieve with the new initiative, Officer Rodney McFadden tells me.

"You want the community behind you, you want their trust," McFadden says.

They can build that trust by establishing rapport over common interests like trendy shoes, which Sumter High School Principal Anamaria Sandor says helps them serve and protect.

"It’s a matter of safety, so the SRO officers, they are in the building and they establish relationships with all the stakeholders, but also it makes the faculty, the staff and the students feel safe," Sandor explains.

"There have been instances where kids aren't sure how to approach us or are scared of us and of course breaking down those walls is difficult but it’s a job that I enjoy doing and showing them like, 'Hey, I’m normal just like you are," Beaudet adds. "Like finding a common ground where we can have a conversation and opening up the floor for deeper conversations."

For some students, Pinckney says starting those conversations might be difficult.

"Depending on where you grew up, how influential you are, based on what you see in the media, it can definitely be a scary thing to talk to people that have on a badge and a uniform," Pinckney explains. "So kind of seeing them within the school is kind of like “Okay, you’re still human, you’re still a person and I respect you."

But starting conversations over something relatable and non-intimidating like shoes can lead not only to better patrolling the school hallways, but also better serving the community as a whole. McFadden says by building relationships with students, it can help officers stay informed on what’s happening outside of the school. And without a doubt, he tells me the initiative is working. 

"Absolutely. Absolutely. 100% successful," he shares.

The idea started when Sumter Mayor David Merchant visited Sumter High School, Sandor explains.

"In a conversation with one of our SRO officers, the Nike shoes came up because the mayor was wearing the shoes at the time," Sandor recalls. "And one of our SRO officers proposed it would be nice to have those shoes in our school."

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