Niomi Miranda had been toying with the idea of being a cop when her turn came Tuesday to ask Fort Worth Police Chief Jeffrey Halstead a question.
“What inspired you to become a police officer?” Miranda asked.
The question seemed to surprise Halstead for a couple of heartbeats. Miranda, 14, was one of a handful of eighth- and ninth-graders chosen to question Halstead from among about 200 gathered in Rosemont Middle School’s auditorium.
“My dad told me the only way to make it right is to get involved and make it right,” Halstead said. “You have to get involved, make a change and make it right. That’s the reason I got into it.”
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Halstead was speaking to students as part of a new program aimed at explaining the value of education. The police chief will speak later this month at Handley Middle School and the Middle Level Learning Center.
In Tuesday’s discussion, he put the value of education in the context of being a police officer.
“I made a very bad decision when I was 21 years old, because in my senior year of college, I quit college,” Halstead said. “That was a big mistake.”
That choice was inspired by bad experiences, he said, and created circumstances that were difficult to overcome when he later discovered that the career he chose demanded advanced degrees.
Halstead pleaded with the students to look past the bad things that happen and focus on continually improving themselves.
“You’re about to go into a chapter in your lives that’s very challenging,” Halstead said. “You’ll see things in the community that really bother and puzzle you. Don’t lose hope.”
The teenagers are in a generation that’s one of the smartest in American history, Halstead said.
“You will be the golden generation that will carry this country into a new level of efficiency, of technology growth and a higher plane of leadership than we’ve ever seen,” he said. “I beg all of you to reconsider any thought of ever stopping your education.”
Halstead said he is grateful to Papa John’s Pizza for sponsoring a program designed to reward whole classes of students who show exemplary attendance and grades. He applauded the company’s eagerness to invest in the community “because they have the promise and hope that this generation will keep them efficient, safe and growing.”
Rosemont Middle School Principal Benjamin Leos said he watched students’ eyes light up during the speeches by Halstead and 28-year officer Sharron Neal, who made sure the girls in the audience understood that they could rock any job in the department.
“This gave the kids an opportunity to see the reality of being a police chief,” Leos said. “They saw that he had some struggles, too.”
Several kids at Rosemont are struggling with situations that make them think about dropping out, Miranda said. But she’s not one of them. She’s determined to take her education as far as it can go, including a medical degree.
Miranda found plenty of personal encouragement in what Halstead and Neal said.
“It would be possible for me to be a police officer,” she said.