Everyone Needs a Hero

One benefit of speaking at conferences across the country is the chance to hear gifted presenters. Several years ago I had such an opportunity while presenting at a conference in Kentucky. The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms had assembled a diverse group of speakers including one judge, Ted Poe, from the 228th District Court in Houston. Judge Poe was recently elected to represent Texas in our nation’s capitol. It is a testament to his accomplishments that inmates in the Houston jail threw a party to celebrate his departure from the bench.

1. I would never want to be sentenced by a judge like Ted Poe.

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

Judge Poe was controversial because he was creative in seeking ways to make criminals feel real consequences for their acts. He also worked to send a message to all of us to think before we act inappropriately. Undeterred by the ACLU attorneys assigned to monitor his Houston courtroom, Judge Poe earned a reputation that most of us can only dream of as he meted out justice with firmness and ingenuity.

Although some considered him to be harsh, he made a good case that we so often worry about those who prey on the rest of us while forgetting the rights of victims — particularly children — to be safe. He also had an admirable track record. He ordered more than 90 carefully selected felons convicted in his court to wear large signs relating to their crimes in public places as a condition of probation. Only three of those violators were rearrested, each for violating conditions of their probation. With an average time to trial of only two weeks after arrest, this is an incredible achievement compared to most superior courts. Using these and other unorthodox consequences, he protected his county, gave justice to victims and helped offenders learn to control their behavior. That sounds a lot like what a judge is supposed to do.

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

In so many cases, those who victimize others on campus do so with little fear of facing significant consequences. Judge Poe’s experience, and mine, is that when we begin holding people accountable for their actions, they learn to modify their behavior and stop bothering those of us 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 campuses. I reflected on how much improvement is seen when institutions of higher learning take the unique approach of holding students and others accountable for their actions or their misdeeds. Of course, campus officials must find ways to gain the support of law enforcement, probation and court officials to see the full benefit of this philosophy.

As in Judge Poe’s court, this is a daunting task and requires us to be what our campuses need: heroes. It requires much valor to create significant and lasting change. That valor could be seen in the soldiers who faced death when they hit the beach at Normandy. It can also seen in a more subtle and different way when a college or university official squarely plants both feet and vows,“not on my campus.”

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

Michael Dorn is an internationally recognized campus safety expert who has authored and co-authored numerous books on the topic. He is the senior public safety and emergency management analyst for Jane’s Consultancy. He can be reached at .

About the Author

Michael S. Dorn has helped conduct security assessments for more than 6,000 K-12 schools, keynotes conferences internationally and has published 27 books including Staying Alive – How to Act Fast and Survive Deadly Encounters. He can be reached at www.safehavensinternational.org.