COMMENTARY: Lost Opportunity For Kids, A Challenge To Make it Right


Recently the Cannon County School Board turned down an offer by Constable Jim Gibbs to bring an anti violence gang resistance program to Woodbury Grammar School.

Many people and most law enforcement experts will tell you that gang activity is their number one crime concern. Gangs are no longer just a big city problem; they now operate in the smallest of towns nationwide. Gangs and gang violence remain a growing cancer in our society. Gangs recruit members at a very young age, in our schools and as a condition to join they are either savagely beat, or in the case of girls, raped.

The program that Gibbs was offering is a product of the U.S. Department of Justice and with Gibbs volunteering his teaching services, the program would have been absolutely FREE. Referred to as G.R.E.A.T., (Gang Resistance Education and Training), the program also deals with the issue of bullying.

Bullying begins in elementary school and peaks in middle school. Nine out of 10 cases of bullying are NOT reported, and 80-90% of adolescents reported being bullied during their school years. 71% of teachers surveyed maintained that they always intervene during such situations. However, 71% of students didn’t report bullying because they don’t think teachers care!

Over the past 10 years zero tolerance offenses have risen in Tennessee schools. Those offenses include drug possession or use, firearms possession and battery against staff members, and they generally result in transfer to an alternative school, expulsion or some other discipline.

The Cannon County School District has to realize that there is a concern as they recently paid for an entertaining program called “STAMP Out Bullying” presented by Jay Banks. Funds were made available for the program by Middle Tennessee Electric.

When the school board voted to decline the offer from Gibbs, Chairman Randy Gannon influenced the other board members with an alleged quote from what he referred to as “local law enforcement” that the program “was not needed” and that “local law enforcement “didn’t want to see it happen”.

Chief of Police Tony Burnett was asked about his part in this lost opportunity for the kids of Cannon County. He said Gannon misquoted him. Chief Burnett denied saying that there wasn’t a need for the program; he just did not want a constable teaching the program. Chief Burnett stated that if the program was going to be taught, he wanted “local law enforcement” teaching it.

Burnett obviously does not seem to understand that constables are local law enforcement officers. Gibbs is more than qualified to teach the program and had already made the contacts to start it. Gibbs entered law enforcement the same year that Tony Burnett was born, and Gibbs obtained a degree in criminal justice before Tony completed grade school. Not only does Chief Burnett have less experience and law enforcement education than Gibbs, but only a couple of Woodbury police officers even qualify under the Department of Justice Guidelines for instructors. Furthermore, Woodbury police only have jurisdiction in Woodbury. Constables are countywide elected law enforcement officers.

When Tony Burnett became Chief of Police he cancelled the DARE program at the schools. He cited budget reasons for stopping the DARE program while at the same time proceeded to purchase new police cars and other occasionally used equipment such as a radar speed trailer, a trailer for road blocks and an SUV to pull it.

It is a terrible thing when ignorance and petty politics interfere with the welfare of our children. Whether it is inexperience, lack of education or just simple arrogance; Chief Burnett’s interference with the constable’s efforts to bring a free anti violence, anti bullying program to Cannon County Schools was wrong and caused a lost opportunity for Cannon children to learn to be safe at no cost whatsoever to the school district.

Constable Gibbs said, “I now challenge the Chief to make room in his budget and bring G.R.E.A.T., or a comparable program to the kids of Cannon County. After all, they really do deserve to be safe.”