Alachua County Sheriff’s Office deputy Esau Bright, of the K-9 Unit, speaks to students Wednesday at Eastside High School with his Belgian Shepherd partner Deacon as part of BLAST: Building Lasting Relationships Between Police and Community. The event was hosted by the U.S. attorney’s office for the Northern District of Florida. Bright has worked in the K-9 Unit for 6.5 years and with Deacon for 1.5. Bright said he enjoys working with the students to “get them to know that we’re not just the bad guys.”

During Deputy Esau Bright’s demonstration with his two-and-a-half-year-old K-9, Deacon, students asked a question that he said he always receives: “Can we pet him?”

Unfortunately, students were not able to pet the K-9. Instead, students had the opportunity to spend their day interacting with law enforcement officials firsthand and learn about what they do and why.

On Wednesday, the Building Lasting Relationships Between Policy and Community (BLAST) program took place at Eastside High School at 1201 SE 43rd St. from 9:15 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.

The event, hosted by the Northern District of Florida U.S Attorney’s Office, allowed students to interact with law enforcement officials and gain a new perspective about the different scenarios they may find themselves in.

Programs like BLAST are important because it shows the kids that law enforcement officials are people, too, Bright, K-9 handler of the Alachua County Sheriff's Department, said.

“It actually shows the kids that we’re just not robots,” Bright said. “We’re not out here to make their life miserable.”

At the BLAST event, students heard from speakers and participated in group breakout activities that lasted for 30 minutes each. Chris Canova from the United States Attorney’s Office and Larry Keefe from the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Florida both spoke to students during these activities.

The four breakout sessions included: the use of force/firearm simulator, the federal crime scenario, traffic/street stop simulation, the home/domestic LEO response and the K-9 demonstration.

Laughter filled the room as students made siren noises with their mouths as they role-played a traffic stop with Florida Highway Patrol Master Cpl. Patricia. Jefferson-Shaw, who was role-playing a mother getting pulled over.

Jefferson-Shaw discussed what went right and what went wrong in their role-playing scenarios and discussed the different ways to respond when getting pulled over. Jefferson-Shaw said at the end of the day, everyone wants to go back home to their families, including law enforcement officials.

“I think that it’s important that the kids get to see us in this atmosphere because it’s a calm atmosphere,” Deputy Sheriff at ACSO Teameika Trueluck said. “They can see what it is that we do, they can get a better idea of why we do the things that we do and they can also get an idea of what they need to do if they are in certain situations.”

Trueluck said that her favorite part of the day was watching the kids pretend to be the police and act out different scenarios.

James Darby, the last speaker at the event, spoke about his experiences in prison for about nine years and his life now outside of prison. “You guys are the future,” Darby said. “Be a leader.”

Students applauded as Darby said, “I am a free man.”

Darby left the students with two final messages: Make good decisions and watch who you hang around.

Tien is a first-year journalism major at the University of Florida.