True Heroes

One benefit of speaking at conferences around the country is the opportunity to hear many gifted presenters. I recently had such an opportunity at a conference in Kentucky. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms had assembled a diverse group of speakers, including Judge Ted Poe from the 228th District Court in Houston, Texas.

Judge Poe is one of the best speakers that I have had the privilege of hearing in some time. After hearing him speak, two thoughts immediately occurred to me:

1. I would never want to be sentenced by Judge Poe.

2. If someone I loved were the victim of a crime, I would want Judge Poe to be the judge to administer justice.

Judge Poe has been controversial for thinking“out of the box” and seeking ways to make the criminal feel the consequences for their acts. He also strives to send a message to the rest of us to think before we act inappropriately.

Although some consider him to be harsh, Judge Poe has a good track record and he makes a good case — that we worry so much about those who prey on the rest of us, that we forget about the rights of victims, particularly children. This is a concern that we frequently hear expressed by the average person when the topic of our criminal justice system arises. As a condition of probation, Judge Poe has ordered 93 felons convicted in his court, to wear large signs relating to their crimes. Only three of those violators have been re-arrested, and all three were arrested for violating conditions of their probation. Compared to most superior courts, that is an incredible achievement. Using these and many other unorthodox consequences, he protects his county, gives justice to victims, and helps offenders learn to control their behavior. That sounds like what a judge is supposed to do.

Judge Poe feels that our society has lost sight of the main purpose of the criminal justice system — the administration of justice. He feels that our society’s ills are complex, but he also believes that the lack of accountability is a major factor contributing to our nation’s incredibly high crime rate. As a police officer for two decades, I could not agree more. Having worked extensively in the school setting, it strikes me that this issue really hits home in our current concerns for the safety of our schools.

In so many cases, those who victimize others in school do so with little concern of facing significant consequences. Judge Poe’s experience, and mine, has been that when we begin holding people accountable for their actions, they typically learn to modify their behavior and stop bothering those who do respect the rights of others.

While being inspired by Judge Poe’s humorous, articulate, and powerful message, I thought of how true his words are in relation to our schools. I reflected on how much improvement is seen when schools take the unique approach of holding students and parents accountable for their actions or their misdeeds. Of course, schools must find ways to gain the support of law enforcement, probation and court officials to see the full benefit of this philosophy.

We should not dismiss the“softer” measures, such as counseling, for troubled children, but we should not excuse the wrongdoer from facing consequences while we are providing that type of assistance. There has been a definite trend in our nation’s schools, and in the criminal justice system, to focus on soft intervention measures while shying away from the use of significant punishments. We have paid the price for this well intentioned but incomplete approach.

As in Judge Poe’s court, this is a daunting task. It requires us to be what our children need — heroes. It requires much valor to effect significant and lasting change. That valor has been seen in the soldier who faced a hailstorm of death and destruction when he hit the beach at Normandy, to stop the atrocities of a madman who had gained control of a nation — and nearly that of Europe. It has also been seen around the nation when an educator has planted both feet squarely and vowed “not in my school”.

American society is in dire need of heroes. We need them in our military, our public safety agencies, our government and, if we need them anywhere, we need them in our schools. I was blessed to have the opportunity to meet a true hero when I met a man that should make every Texan and every American proud. I have met a number of educators from around the country who I also consider to be heroes. I hope that I am blessed in my travels to continue to meet many more heroes who will not compromise the safety of the children in their care.

Michael Dorn is a school safety specialist with the Georgia Emergency Management Agency. He is also the former Chief of Police for the Bibb County (Ga.) Public School System, which is widely used as an international model for school safety.

About the Author

Michael Dorn serves as the executive director for Safe Havens International, Inc., an IRS-approved, nonprofit safety center. He has authored and co-authored more than 20 books on campus safety. He can be reached through the Safe Havens website at