- Associated Press - Sunday, March 27, 2016

RIDGELAND, Miss. (AP) - There are kids at Park Place Apartments in Ridgeland who will never forget the day a domestic dispute broke out in their apartment complex and the police were called.

But they’ll remember it not for the altercation. Instead, they’ll remember their friends, officers Jason Haven and Jimmy Finnegan, who turned their attention from the grown-up fight to a quick game of football.

“There were some words being used that kids don’t need to hear,” said Finnegan, who has two children of his own. “So we started playing with them to try to turn their attention from it.”

The disturbance Saturday involved about six adults, the officers said, and it was taking place right in the parking lot, where the kids were playing. While officers took care of the adults, Haven, Finnegan, and others got in some quality time with the children.

Haven said the instinct to shield the kids from the ugliness of the argument was instinctual.

“I think it’s just kind of natural. We had enough officers here, so we saw once we had the situation under control - we still kept an eye on the actual call - it was just kind of natural to talk to the kids,” he said.

Resident Ashley Cook Harley caught the fun on video and posted it to Facebook.

Harley’s son, Ethan Pixley, was also the child whose photo with a Jackson police officer went viral in early February. He was actually the one who approached the officers first, they said.

“That’s going to be the next Ridgeland police officer. He’s on his way. He loves it,” said Finnegan. “A lot of these kids, they need a good influence, a positive influence, and to me it starts with them if we can influence them at a young age.”

Finnegan and Haven said they didn’t really think they did anything extraordinary on Saturday, but that instead, it was an honor.

“That’s why I love being a police officer,” Haven said. “If I wasn’t in this job, I would never have been in that situation.”

As the officers spoke with The Clarion-Ledger, the neighborhood children came back out with their footballs and their Ripstik skateboards. As they gathered around, ready to initiate another game, one particularly gregarious child named Alex said they all remembered the officers.

“He played in high school and he played in middle school,” Alex said, pointing to Finnegan and Haven, respectively.

Then he pointed to another boy named Elijah.

“We call him Brick Wall,” he said, explaining that his brother plays seventh-grade football against Elijah and can’t get around him.

“I guess that’s why I kind of tend to draw towards kids. When I’m out here, I see my kids,” Finnegan said. “I think when I’m dealing with a call, what if my son or my daughter was in that situation, I’d want a law enforcement officer to kind of shield them from it. They don’t need to be seeing those things.”

Ridgeland Police Chief John Neal said he was not surprised when he saw Harley’s video, as he takes pride in the caliber of officers on his force.

“When I first saw the story and the video, it makes you proud to be the chief of a department where you’ve got officers who on a Saturday afternoon when they’ve probably got several reports to catch up on and other duties and responsibilities, they take 10-15 minutes to interact with the youth of our city who are at that age where their impressions of law enforcement can go either way, and to show them they’re real people, too,” Neal said.

Finnegan said working with kids is also part of his calling as an officer because at a young age, based on situations in his own life, he had decided he didn’t want to be on the wrong side of the law.

“I made the decision at 9 or 10, and I knew it was a dangerous job, but I wanted to make a difference,” he said.

Neal said that’s exactly the difference police can make in situations like the one that his officers found themselves in.

“You don’t ever know what a child’s background is as far as other family members who may have fallen victim to crimes or may have someone in their family who’s been locked up or incarcerated,” he said. “And for an officer to put on that friendly face and friendly demeanor and to carry it down to kids that we are real people too, and we like to play football and enjoy spring days, sometimes it’s just the uniform we put on that makes us look like we’re the bad guys, but they’ve all got kids too, or brothers and sisters and mothers and fathers.”

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Information from: The Clarion-Ledger, http://www.clarionledger.com

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