Kids are a tough bunch

The other day I gave a presentation to a group of 5th graders as part of an outreach program with our community partners. As the non-stop flow of kids entered the classroom, I began to sweat.

It had been a long while since I had been exposed to this many children at one time. I had forgotten what eager looks like. They were bright eyed, bushy-tailed, and ready for their guest speaker.

In fact, they were a lot like those magic jumping beans we had as kids that vibrate and bounce around a little.

I know, most generations will not understand.  These magic beans were different than the ones Jack had.

So, about these magic jumping beans. They were inhabited by a moth larva which moved around in there when the seed was heated up by your hand or a match or a magnifying glass. Of course, we did not know that. We thought they were cool and full of magic energy. Again, you might be making judgement about my childhood or my parents.

As I scanned the room, I saw a menagerie of fashion and personalities. They all had the same level of eagerness which was just waiting to pounce at me. There was a hum of enthusiasm which almost seemed like it had some sort of electric energy.

It scared me, actually. I had forgotten what it was like to interact with young ones.

Sizing up the competition

The presentation started out shaky because introductions from an ex-cop now college instructor never have smoke and lights. I had to make up for it.

As I had a student help me at the front, she reached into my duty bag filled with cool and not so cool cop things to pull out an item. The “magic beans” starting hopping around like mad. Hands went up. Multiple questions rang out at once. They all wanted to reach in my duty bag and grab something.

Thus, began the incoherent noise.  I noticed my surroundings were closing in on me and I had no exit in sight.

Being pummeled by thousands of inquiring minds in an hour was really exhausting. They were all good formulated questions which gave me a rude awakening.

Kids nowadays know so much more than I did at that age. It makes you wonder if it was a set up from the teacher.

Nah, it was too random and no one was reading off a card.

It really is remarkable. At the same time, I realized I had lost my stamina for this type of community work. Fifteen minutes might have been my match. These students were rocket scientists in the making and there was no way I could present fake fun and excitement for an hour.

Where was my stand in or stunt double?

Smiles came over me several times as I shot back answers to questions and pointed to another raised hand and another. I think they were just coping smiles.

The Interrogation

The questions were rapid fire followed by several: “Do you  know so and so and so who is an officer for such and such department?” I was doing my best to deflect the inevitable questions of prison and police shootings.

A kid surprised me by asking me if I had ever responded to a suicide. The room was eerily quiet or maybe just in my mind. For some reason, this made me shift gears from the upbeat high drive elementary interrogation.

“Yes, I have.”

He was quick to politely ferret out some more.

“Could you tell us about it?”

I could not imagine even comprehending what a suicide was at that age. Yet, here I was staring at a wide eyed young person who was intent on me filling them in on the hard stuff.

“You know, that is an important question. But no, I do not think I should tell you about those calls. They are very sad.” He seemed to be OK with my reply.

If there was any awkwardness to come from the pointed topic, it soon dissipated with more hands shooting up in the air.  There were the standard questions. I called on a few more who wanted to know about my silliest calls and if I ever had shot anyone.

Cat Detection Theory

Then there was this one question: “Ms. Loving, don’t you think police officers should consider using cats for drug sniffing and apprehension? You know like dogs as drug sniffers. Only cats.”

police drug detection felines

“Police Prospect” Photo by Aleksandar Cvetanovic on Unsplash

It caught me off guard. At first, I chuckled inside. Never on the outside, mind you. Don’t let them see you sweat or laugh at their sincerity. How do I politely let this young man down that his idea might not hold water?

“Shouldn’t you guys be playing with your Etch A Sketch?”, I thought to myself which led to me imagining moans and groans. Those are probably for babies and beyond this group of near adolescents.

After a short pause, I thought I had come up with a good response. “That is a very good question.” I think this was my favorite catch phrase of the day.

I also find stalling is a good tactic while I figure out my articulation.

He did not seem satisfied and was intense, so I recognized my cue to continue, “Cats. I am not sure about that because they are not very obedient and they often get distracted by cat nip.”

Feline Negotiations 

Yep. That was a good answer. I had let him down softly and hopefully there would be no trauma.

No doubt this feller was going to be an attorney or an activist. And so, I was not ready for the factual arguments presented by a 5th grader to me about cat detection.

“Well, I think police should give them a chance. I really think they should be explored for drug detection. They are really smart. They are fast. My cat, she will claw your eyes out. Police could use them as a scout. They have really good noses.”

My mind briefly wandered to a scenario of cops throwing cats on bad guys or running with a cat in tow, waiting for the perfect moment to throw-release the apprehension feline.

First, I would have to be a pretty speedy police officer. Secondly, adding a cat who might not be happy about a jog out on the town seemed like a twofer- a fight with your apprehension animal and possibly another with the bad guy in the end. There was always a possibility the bicycle cops could carry them in their baskets.

Finally, I contemplated the sniffing idea. It perplexed me. I pictured a cat sitting there looking at me like I was stupid because I couldn’t locate the drugs with my own eyes. Or nose. Why should they lift a finger, or a paw?

Shifting back to reality, I realized the drone of tiny conversations and 100 queries at once had given me a setback.  As my mind wanders, I had temporarily checked out on a visualization quest. I had to catch up to the topic at hand.

Trying to encourage innovation, I told him I would like to see his prototype.

police drug detection felines

“Police In Action”: Photo by Karl Anderson on Unsplash

The Plea Bargain

No, I was not falling for the probability of this proposal being implemented in law enforcement.  However, I was willing to give the creative student kudos for his innovative introduction.

It was not long before hands shot up for 200 more inquiries into criminal justice topics. The trick was to select the students who would ask the easy ones. In a room full of bright elementary students, that is never a good strategy.

Surely, I was slowly being consumed. The room appeared to be closing in. Were they moving closer in order to be heard or called on? Was I being invaded?  I started to believe it.

The presentation ended with good notes. We can all be assured our children are learning advanced skills in elementary. They are certainly ahead of my time.

As I packed my Show and Tell items back up, I felt a presence at my left.

“Ms. Loving, I really think you should reconsider cat detection.” This brilliant young man was determined.  I did admire his spirit, bravado, and ingenuity.

Cop Cats

Active listening is a honed skill of mine. As I nodded in recognition of his persistence and bold arguments, I reassured him I would like to see his work and his first cat subject. He lit up like a Christmas tree. I had given him hope. Was that ethical?

On my end, I really indeed wanted to see this. It would not be too far off the mark to believe some useful cat purpose is out there besides companionship and ecosystem balance. However, logic would hold out for the dogs

Would the first one have the personality of the famed Grumpy Cat or Morris the 9Lives cat? Perhaps there was a special test cats could go through to see if they were detection material.  The protege definitely could not be a pampered house cat which was declawed. I would vote for a feral cat. They are street ready.  Anyway, the kid got me thinking and sparked some humor.

But, I am pretty set on the theory that cats will not work. They are independent and neurotic. These are two traits which might not bode well with a cop as its handler. Perhaps those characteristics are more favorable in a police officer’s mate, rather than a partner.

A couple days later I read an article on (WISN) ABC news about K-9s getting a whiff of 38 million dollars worth of cocaine out of Philly. Whoa. That’s what we call a sh*t ton. The mother load. 

As I read the news, I wished my young new friend could see this report. What would he think about that? How would he integrate cat detection to raise to this level of evidence nose tracking success?

The challenge is on.