COOKEVILLE – On Sept. 1, 2022, the Cookeville Police Department recognized Jamaal Thompson (JT), a Tennessee Tech student from Hendersonville, and presented him the Distinguished Citizen Award for his unselfish devotion to his fellow man as well as his meritorious achievement in the performance of his civic responsibilities.
Chief Randy Evans said, “One of the goals of the Cookeville Police Department is to apply a true community oriented policing philosophy to all services delivered to the community as well as to develop and maintain positive relationships that foster problem solving partnerships with our law enforcement cohorts and the citizens we serve. That’s exactly what JT did and continues to do every day.”
During the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in late 2020, Evans met JT at a meeting on the campus of Tennessee Tech University (TTU). The murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officers earlier that year had obviously had a negative effect on the relationship between communities of color and law enforcement agencies nationwide.
“I met this young man and he asked smart questions, and I knew those questions deserved answers,” said Evans during the award presentation. “We talked about community policing and what I really found out through conversations with him and others is that there was a demographic that we were not reaching, and that was some of our student population.”
During later conversations with JT, there was some discussion about offering a Citizen’s Police Academy type of training program as a “for-credit” class at TTU. A goal for the class would be to specifically attract students who are culturally different from most of the members of the Cookeville Police Department and/or students from communities where the relationship with law enforcement is particularly strained.
While some might offer platitudes or sincerely mean to help without any follow through, JT took ownership of the idea and started contacting university faculty members and coaching staff to explain and promote the concept.
“I started making some phone calls and before I could ever gain any traction, I get a phone call back from this young man who said he already had it worked out,” Chief Evans said. “He had already convinced Dr. Julie Baker to facilitate the class.”
TJ’s efforts were instrumental in the adaptation of the Service Learning in the Community class to match the paradigm that had been previously discussed. Once the first class was scheduled for the Spring Semester of 2021, JT personally contacted students (especially student athletes) to help convince them to enroll in the class.
The 2022 Fall Semester at TTU marks the fourth iteration of this class and JT has continued to facilitate the ongoing success of the program. Beyond being educational for attending students, this class provides an ongoing opportunity through direct personal contact for our officers to learn from people representing a demographic different from their own.
“I am extremely blessed and humbled to receive this honor,” said Thompson. “I would like to thank my entire CODE family, Chief Evans and the entire Cookeville Police Department, and Dr. Julie Baker (associate dean in the College of Education) for her constant guidance and support in my life. So many people came together to create something beautiful in hopes to change lives, and none of this would be possible without them. I am both grateful and lucky to have them all in my life.”
Thompson also won the prestigious Steve Hamilton Sportsmanship Award from the Ohio Valley Conference back in 2021 for his impact on the community through his work with CODE. It is one of the highest single-season honors the conference offers to student-athletes.
“This young man had the opportunity become jaded and to be negative,” said Chief Evans, “But instead he took the opportunity to learn more about law enforcement. He took the opportunity to help our community and that’s what he’s done. Through that relationship, we now have a relationship with many of our minority students on campus.”