Police brothers guide marching band to success

Story highlights

  • Police brothers mentor students because of their love for marching bands
  • Extracurricular activities keep students "out of the street," says Sgt. Gregory Johnson
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New Orleans (CNN)Cymbals clash and snare drums roll with a loud cadence that raises feet off the floor.

Officer James Caire, a 20-year veteran of the New Orleans Police Department, is monitoring the percussionists and snapping his fingers to keep them in rhythm.
Across the high school band room stands Caire's younger brother, Sgt. Gregory Johnson, eyeing the color guard and signaling for them to lift their knees higher.
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    When these brothers are wearing their uniforms, colleagues address them as Officer Caire and Sgt. Johnson. But when they're leading band practice at McDonogh 35 High School, dressed in sweat pants and T-shirts, they become coaches and mentors.
    Every day, they go straight from working a full police shift to a two-hour band practice.
    Reluctant to talk about themselves and uneasy about breaking away from work to be interviewed, the brothers did open up about their love for marching bands. The McDonogh band recently played in Mardi Gras parades in the city.
    Caire started playing drums as a child and continued through high school and college. "I figured if I'm always going to be playing drums I might as well be teaching somebody," he said."The stuff that I learned through music, is what I apply to my every day life. And I try to do the same thing for the kids."
    James Caire, left, and Gregory Johnson mentor a high school marching band.
    Johnson's experience in a high school band color guard drew him to help McDonogh's students. "It's always a passion to do it and it brings back memories. Being able to work with them directly and know that I'm a part of it brings me joy."
    In their day jobs, Caire oversees police station and vehicle maintenance. Johnson supervises a district investigative unit, and has been an NOPD officer for 14 years.
    According to Johnson, a lot of car and house burglaries in New Orleans are committed by teenagers. By working with young people at school, Johnson hopes to avoid working with them from behind bars. "As long as they're participating in extracurricular activities, that's an out for them. That keeps them out of the street," Johnson said.

    'They see me as a person they can trust'

    Cydney Neal, a junior -- and the only girl on the drum line -- said she has a better opportunity to go to college because of Caire. Caire's dedication to his students includes working with each individual to fine tune their skills and teach them advanced techniques. As a result, his students are equipped to continue pursuing their craft at a higher level.
    The McDonogh 35 High School band drum line.
    "He can be like a brother or a father or an uncle to me and it's just meaningful," she said. "He's nice and treats you with so much respect." Untrustworthy labels that teens sometimes put on police, she said, are "just not true."
    Caire has built a trusting relationship with his students by working at the school for four years. He has helped shape the way that some of them look at police officers.
    "They see me as a cop," Caire said, "but more often than not they see me as a person that they can trust and they can confide in and they can go to with anything."

    A family dynamic

    Both brothers say that if they weren't working at the school they would be spending time together somewhere else, so the situation is a win-win. Their interaction allows the students to see the human side to each of them -- a family dynamic that is offered to everybody.
    Johnson said that initially the kids were apprehensive about him being their leader, due to the stigma surrounding police officers in some communities.
    "I told them we don't always wear a uniform. We like to relax and have fun just like everybody else," he said.
    Things have appeared to change his two years at the school. "Trust me," Johnson said, "even being an officer -- they clown me just like anybody else sometimes. I have no problem with that."
    The brothers serve as role models, encouraging the kids to steer clear of trouble. "It's kind of cool because he used to march when he was a kid, too," said band member Joseph Theodore.
    Johnson and Caire offer the students a glimpse of life as police officers. In fact Theodore recognized Johnson from his appearance on A&E's police documentary series, "The First 48."
    "I wanted to be a police officer before meeting him," Theodore said. "And now also, because of him."