Officer Michael Williams Builds Relationships

Resource Officers Reach Students in a Special Way
Posted on 05/29/2018
Image of School Resource Officer(as reported by Theresa Cottom, Ohio.com/Akron Beacon Journal)

In 2011, Michael Williams started his first year as a school resource officer at East High School in Akron with a mission: build relationships with students.

As groups of kids headed to class, he greeted them with a “what’s up” and often received similar responses in return.

But one day that August, a boy in a cluster of freshmen answered differently.

“I don’t talk to cops,” Galen Thompson Jr. said and kept walking.

At first, the response took Williams by surprise. But his surprise quickly grew into determination.

From that day on, Williams’ mission took on a new focus: befriend the 15-year-old and change his perception of officers at a time when racial tensions between police and black males like Thompson were reaching new heights nationwide.

“I said, ‘Oh, challenge accepted,’ ” said Williams, a white officer. “I was just getting to know people, but he didn’t really want to get to know me.”

Background check
Williams was an officer on the Akron police force for 13 years before he became a full-time resource officer in Akron schools as part of the district’s Student Services Safety Team.

Officers on the safety team are responsible for building security and establishing relationships to create a safer environment.

He worked as a part-time student resource officer in different schools before he began working full-time at East. But Thompson — who is known to many as “Bubba” — quickly became one of Williams’ most difficult students to establish a relationship with.

Every day after their first encounter, Williams greeted Thompson in the hallway whenever he passed him, often four or five times a day.

Every day, he was completely ignored.

“I was still childish then,” Thompson recalled. “I didn’t like cops because my dad’s always been in the system.”

Thompson, now 22, said he developed a distrust of police when he was growing up because his father was in and out of jail.

At the same time, racial tensions were growing across the country.

As Thompson moved through his teen years, dashboard and body cameras became more popular on police forces, capturing instances of officers killing unarmed black men in videos that caught fire on social media.

The national Black Lives Matter movement started as a social media campaign after the shooting of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed 17-year-old boy, in 2012. Subsequent police shootings of unarmed black men were protested nationally by Black Lives Matter, which sparked Blue Lives Matter, a countermovement in support of police.

Since the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Mo., in 2014, videos of police shooting black men have become commonplace in the media.

“Some cops do some off-the-wall stuff, for real. This world is way different than it used to be,” Thompson said. “I think about it sometimes: If I ever was in that predicament, what would go wrong? That’s why I try to dodge that predicament.”

As Williams persisted with Thompson, he looked into Thompson’s background and realized why the high schooler might be avoiding police.

“That wasn’t going to deter me from making him like me,” Williams said. “I think that actually maybe made me want to work harder in making him like me.”

Throughout his freshman and sophomore year, Thompson continued to disregard Williams. The only improvement from his disdain was the occasional joke — Thompson started to call Williams a mall cop and, sometimes more specifically, Paul Blart.

Williams responded with over-the-top persistence. When he passed Thompson in the hallways, he would pull out his phone, pose beside the teen and take a selfie with him. Williams gave Thompson the nickname “BFFB” — Best Friend Forever Bubba — and called him out by that name in front of his friends.

“It got to the point where his buddies thought it was hilarious,” Williams said. “As time progressed, it almost just became a joke.”

Williams also was giving Thompson support throughout that time, attending every East football game, where Thompson played as defensive tackle and offensive guard. And whenever Thompson ran into trouble at school or got into an altercation, Williams was there to talk him through it.

“As years went by, we got cooler because he started showing me for real that life is more than what I think it is,” Thompson said. Read more >>.

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