Long before the world came to know the now beloved, Officer Norman, kids of a certain generation knew and loved our beloved Resource Officer in the Pine Bluff School District, Richard Davies.
“I was the kid that couldn’t stand to see somebody being teased and picked on. Couldn’t stand it. And I couldn’t drive by somebody that needed help without stopping. It’s just there.” -Officer Richard Davies
I spoke with Officer Richard Davies and he chronicled his memories as a training officer and when he went to the Academy, he remembered them saying, “If you’re in here to help people and change the world, then you’re here for the wrong reason. Well I disagreed.” Davies told me that being an officer was something that he wanted to do ever since he was a child and that it was a dream that finally took shape, almost 40 years later.
In 1995, Davies recalls that his Sergeant asked if he would volunteer for a new school “resource” program. At that time, this concept didn’t exist in the state of Arkansas. However, with a handful of schools in the area, he hoped that if he had to do it, then at least he’d get to do it a school of his choosing. His first choice, was Watson Chapel Junior High, a school that hadn’t had too many dealings with response calls for law enforcement, at the time. From what he remembers, junior high wasn’t fun the first time around so his reluctance was only natural. Davies says that he repeated the 9th grade twice and dropped out of 11th grade on the second day of school. His passion was in his music, but he says that he obtained his G.E.D and worked to support himself until something better came along. To his surprise, he claims that this time, going back to school was “absolutely the best decision I ever made in my entire career”.
When Officer Davies was notified that the school he’d been assigned to was Jack Robey Junior High School, I imagine the Officer envisioned his first day on campus would be something like a scene from the 80’s classic film, Lean On Me, starring Morgan Freeman as a new high school principal, Mr. Joe Clark. In the mid-90s when I attended, Jack Robey was what some considered to be an “at-risk” institution, with a population of nearly 1,200 students, according to data by the 2014 NCES, AR Dept. of Education, that’s almost twice the population that it serves today. On a typical day, there could be any number of fights between 2 to12. Prior to this new initiative, the idea of a “Resource Officer” was unheard of. No one knew what it was or what it entailed of. Davies says that the instructions he received from his lieutenant were “Do what you do. End of orders.” And with instructions in hand, he set out to do just that.
The officer admits that he had preconceived notions from the start, but what happened his first day on the job, is something that he defined as “profound”. He described what was a hot summer day before the fall semester had even begun. While walking through the halls, he was drawn to the music that came from the cafeteria. As he passed by the huge windows on both sides, you couldn’t help but see what’s going on. Intrigued, he says that he stopped and observed the band, at that time, under the direction of the great Darryl Mc Field. He recalls, “The cafeteria was full because the band was huge. The kids were in parade rest, or whatever it’s called and Mr. Mc did his ‘Horns up’. Pow! They snapped them up. Sweat is running down their faces and I’m watching them. And he pointed down and they snapped them down. They didn’t move, they didn’t flinch. They didn’t speak. They didn’t do anything and I thought, ‘These are not the kids that I thought I was going to be dealing with’. And I watched them for a while. And it changed my whole attitude about the kids at Jack Robey because I saw the potential.”
Even still, the Officer admits that the success of the program was an uphill battle. However, he attributes his success to one main principle, respect. He says that what he learned from the students over the years taught him more about himself, which in turn, helped him connect with students on a more personal level. He says that he realized that most of the time, all the kids really wanted was someone to talk to, saying that he often would tell them, “This upsets you and I can understand why. I don’t blame you for being mad, now let’s figure out what to do about it. And that’s what we did.”
That same intrigue that stopped him that first summer day in the halls of Jack Robey Junior High School, still lingers inside him today. Davies is an artist, at heart. He shared with me some of his favorite works, which include everything from music to multi-media and graphic designs on his computer to church doodles that are inspired by the message, during service. As a musician, he’s a self-proclaimed blues/jazz drummer, by trade. Writer and poet, he is an artist in every form. Every piece has a unique story.
Wild Strings, Painted and mounted by Richard Davies
I asked him how the art and law enforcement worked together. His response, “Very well, actually.” He characterized the art as his release. For many people, when we get the opportunity to go back to our hometown, it’s often a time of reminiscing on good memories and fun times. We may drive to the park and reflect upon memories of going there as a child. Or passing by our childhood friend’s home and remembering the good ole’ days. But not for Officer Davies and other members of law enforcement. “People drive around Pine Bluff, and they say with excitement, ‘I went to school there’ or ‘I grew up on this street.’ I don’t. (I remember) I took a burned baby out of that house. I worked an accident that had fatalities on this corner. That’s the way I see it and I can’t get that out of my head. So I put it in an art form because you can’t keep it inside. You have to let it out. The way I see it, I’ve got two choices. I can let this fester or I can put it somewhere, turn it into something that I can bear to look at every once in a while.”