Harrison County

He wants kids to know crime isn’t cool. Gulfport is grateful to him.

District Attorney Joel Smith presents Coast broadcaster Rip Daniels with the Crime Victims Community Service Award on Friday at a program in observation of National Crime Victims Rights Week.
District Attorney Joel Smith presents Coast broadcaster Rip Daniels with the Crime Victims Community Service Award on Friday at a program in observation of National Crime Victims Rights Week. Amanda McCoy

Rip Daniels says he “took a boy to task” for a shoplifting arrest and the situation gave him an idea. He could show students crime has consequences and it’s cool to abide by the law.

His school assembly program, Crime and Consequences, earned recognition from the District Attorney’s Office on Friday. DA Joel Smith presented him with the Crime Victims Community Service Award at a National Crime Victims Rights Week program at First Baptist Church.

Daniels is the owner of radio station WJZD-FM, which airs his commentary program, “It’s A New Day.” He’s been a broadcaster for 40 years.

Crime and Consequences is a high-energy school-assembly program with upbeat music, real-life scenarios involving law enforcement officers and a video that shows a young person going to jail — from the booking process to lock-up, to the cell door closing.

“And there’s a chant: ‘It’s just not worth it. It’s just not worth it.’,” Daniels said. “The kids get into it.”

Daniels got the idea for the program one night after he got a call from a mother. Her son, who had money, had nevertheless shoplifted an item he didn’t need. The boy got caught.

“I did what a father would do,” Daniels said. “I took the boy to task for it. I took him to the Harrison County jail, doing the tour, talking to him. It dawned on me that, in his mind, it just wasn’t cool being a ‘Boy Scout.’

“The boy said he realized breaking the law was stupid, but said he didn’t realize the consequences.

“We need to change this peer pressure thing so young people can learn to equate crime as utterly ridiculous, utter stupidity. It needs to be the way it was 40 years ago, when you didn’t want to get caught doing wrong because it was unconscionable, a community outrage and would embarrass your family.”

The school program includes a question-and-answer session. Daniels’ station also provides Crime and Consequences cards to hand out, and airs public-service announcements with young people describing what they’ve done and what the consequences were.

“The key is capturing kids early,” Daniels said. “Doing nothing (to help children) is never the right thing to do.”

Rebranding coolness

Daniels had written to various local officials in September asking for their help to “rebrand” coolness as good citizenship instead of allowing “thug life” to be glamorized.

“He wouldn’t take no for an answer,” DA Smith said of Daniels’ request.

Daniels had taken notice of Gulfport Police Chief Leonard Papania’s efforts to rid the city of what the chief called a “criminal subculture,” those who have no respect for others or the law.

He mentioned Papania’s stance in his letter. He said the media has played a role in creating a culture of “glorifying the bad guy. It seems that our young people get more attention when they are incarcerated than when they are being educated.

“I must admit that the thug culture has been positively branded as being good, and law abiding citizens have been branded as bad. As a result, our children have made the criminal element fashionable and the innocent ‘nerds’ and ‘squares.’

“With the help of the media, the result of that child being a good citizen can be made fashionable again,” he wrote.

‘A captured audience’

Daniels says he felt strongly that having “a captured audience” in a school assembly would allow him to show students the importance of being good citizens.

Those who give in to peer pressure and commit a crime are the ones who suffer when they make bad choices, not their friends, he said.

He didn’t send his letter to parents. His reasoning: “Our efforts have to be regardless of the support or lack of support of (parents).”

Daniels said Gulfport School District Superintendent Glen East has asked for another school assembly. Daniels has already done the program for Bayou View and Central elementary schools.

A school assembly is being planned at North Gulfport 7th & 8th Grades in the Harrison County School District. Programs may also be held soon in Pass Christian and Jackson County.

Smith said Daniels has created an entertaining, eye-opening program for students that could make a profound difference in their lives.

“We need more people who are this committed to change,” Smith said. “We need more people who see with such clarity the needs and possibilities of young people in today’s society.”

Robin Fitzgerald: 228-896-2307, @robincrimenews