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Arkansas police trade in Crown Vics for Toyota hybrids in ASU documentary.
ASU short film examines an Arkansas police department that went green.
January 21, 2016

Film by ASU professor examines an Arkansas town's decision to buy hybrid police cars

When filmmakers dream of scoring prestigious screenings, the names that pop in their minds tend to be Cannes, Toronto or Sundance.

Not in Detroit. And not at a car show.

But an Arizona State University professor couldn’t be happier that his short film is being screened today at the 2016 North American International Auto Show in Detroit.                 

Peter Byck’s “Hybrid Law” is about a small-town police department in Arkansas, which awkwardly, but lovingly, embraced a new fleet of Toyota Camry hybrid patrol cars. It is being screened in Detroit by Toyota.

“We didn’t make this for Toyota,” Byck said. “We didn’t even know they were driving Toyotas.”

Byck, a professor of practice in both the School of Sustainability and the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, is the director, writer and producer of “Carbon Nation,” an acclaimed 2010 documentary about climate-change solutions. “Hybrid Law” is part of a series of short films being created by Byck promoting a low-carbon economy. They are being produced in affiliation with ASU.

“Hybrid Law” paints a picture of a traditional small American town where the police love their traditions, but come to appreciate something very new.

Sergeant Don Cleek and Officer Kevin Yeagle of the Arkadelphia, Arkansas, Police Department, stand by their patrol cars — a Crown Victoria and a Camry hybrid — at the beginning of the film.

“He’s got the modern submachine gun, and the modern Toyota car,” Cleek said in his police uniform. “He carries a modern Glock. I drive a good old American V-8 with a rear wheel and a full frame like they were meant to be, (I carry) a wood and steel rifle, like they were meant to be, and a 1911 that was designed in 1911 by John Moses Browning. I’m old. He’s young.”

Yeagle, driving his hybrid, admits he enjoys it.

“I’ve gotten a few snickers, of course, when I tell friends at other departments what I’m driving,” he said. “I don’t want to make myself out to be a green energy person, either. About as far as I’ve gone with that is I hate littering.”

Asked by Byck if he’d go back to driving a Crown Vic, Yeagle simply said, “No.”

Byck was screening “Carbon Nation” in Fayetteville, Arkansas, when someone mentioned the small-town police department that embraced hybrid cars — and was doing a better job because of it.

“I thought, ‘Wow. What a story,’ ” Byck said.

After the police chief and city manager both agreed to the filming, Byck spent two days in the central Arkansas town, with a population of about 10,000.

“I knew when I was filming it, ‘This is really good. They have a good story,’ ” Byck said. “It’s a positive story, and it’s one of those stories we hunt for in our Carbon Nation work — show me good money-saving ways to be cleaner. Those are the stories we hunt for. We hunt for good characters.”

“The only noise you’re going to hear is the tires crunching on the gravel.”
— Arkadelphia Police Chief Al Harris

Initially the cars were not an easy sell to either the rank and file or management.

“When I first heard about the Camrys they were going to order, I was dead set against it,” Cleek said. “Police cars are supposed to be rear-wheel drive, and V-8s, and a lot of room, and be able to go through ditches and stuff.”

“I just dismissed it,” Police Chief Al Harris said. “All I thought was they’re small and don’t have any power.”

Then he and city manager Jimmy Bolt went for test drives.

“One, they’re not little, and two, the performance is a lot better than I’d given them credit for,” Harris said.

The effects of the switch were evident, too.

By replacing 10 Crown Victorias with 10 Toyota Camry hybrids, the department increased patrols, decreased maintenance and cut down so much on fuel that the entire city staff enjoyed a 3 percent wage increase. One officer said he has gone from filling up his gas tank twice per shift to once.

There was even a benefit no one saw coming, and that some still don’t.

“The only noise you’re going to hear is the tires crunching on the gravel,” Harris said. “We call it the stealth mode. You can literally be on top of something before the bad guys realize you’re there.”

The film shows that people are coming on board with green living outside of San Francisco or San Jose.

“This idea that early adoption is owned by the coasts is just wrong,” Byck said. “That’s why this story works so well — because it’s unexpected. I’m seeing innovation and early adoption everywhere. It’s just not known yet. … We’ve got to tell those stories more and more and more. It shouldn’t be thought of as a place of early adoption. It should be celebrated.”

And in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, it is.

“We all want to do right by our world we live in,” Bolt said. “Green is popular, but it also has to be practical.”

The image at the top of this page is a screen shot from Peter Byck's film "Hybrid Law."

Scott Seckel

Reporter , ASU Now


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Bringing citizenship to the classroom

ASU's Vickery a fan of incorporating technology into the teaching of history.
New ASU professor passionate about teaching citizenship, history.
ASU professor: Teachers' background can influence how they teach citizenship.
January 21, 2016

New ASU professor passionate about new ways to teach history, social studies

Editor's note: This is part of a series highlighting new faculty members at Arizona State University. Find a complete listing of new 2015-2016 faculty here.

A year ago, Arizona was the first state in the country to require students to pass a civics testStarting with the class of 2017, students must correctly answer 60 of the 100 questions on the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization civics test in order to receive a high school diploma in Arizona. They can begin taking the online test in eighth grade. in order to graduate from high school.

That’s both good and bad news to Amanda Vickery, a new assistant professor of elementary social studies education at the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College at Arizona State University.

“On the one hand, in traditional curriculum we’re seeing the disappearance of social studies. I’m hopeful this (test) means more focus, more funding and more attention on social studies.

“The other side is that can we really reduce citizenship to passing a test? It’s troubling to reduce participation as a citizen to this prescribed body of knowledge.”

Vickery, who came to ASU in the fall semester from Texas, is passionate about keeping social studies in the K-12 classroom.

“In elementary and middle schools, we’re seeing social studies being left out or alternated with science, being taught every other month or whatever,” she said.

Vickery teaches ASU students who will become elementary school teachers. Last semester, she asked them about their memories of learning social studies. It wasn’t inspiring.

“Basically it’s rote memorization, lectures, reading a textbook,” she said.

“We need to move away from the teacher-centered way of teaching history, move away from lectures, and give students primary sources and teach them to construct the narratives for themselves,” said Vickery, a former elementary and middle school teacher.

She’s especially enthusiastic about the “technology infusion” initiative at the teachers’ college, in which students are taught to include technology as part of the lessons. That means having students tell the story of Rosa Parks or the first Thanksgiving using smartphone apps, podcasts or story-building software.

“We want to move away from the thought that students are empty vessels,” she said.

Both teachers and students bring their backgrounds to the classroom, and that can shape the lessons. Vickery, who is biracial, has researched how African-American teachers’ experiences affect their teaching of citizenship. She found that they teach it as a concept of community rather than a checklist of patriotic acts like voting.

“Citizenship is community, and they’re trying to promote this idea of belonging and how all students can belong,” she said.

That’s an important concept in the current political climate.

“I think as a researcher and a teacher it’s interesting to see how the discourse of citizenship has shifted. Now we see certain people are ‘other’ based on the inflammatory rhetoric of politicians and others,” Vickery said.

“We need to teach the leadership aspects of citizenship.”

Photo by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

reporter , ASU Now