Badge on His Chest and Heart on His Sleeve

Ever hear the expression “One Bad Apple Spoils the Bunch”? For some reason, we apply that reasoning to every facet of life. If you turned on the news the last couple of years you would be hard pressed not to find a story about police featuring brutality, racism, corruption, and even murder. People see those stories and generalize that all police are bad apples and out to get them. This is a different kind of story about a Police Officer who spent his career in very tough areas like Oakland, a city whose crime rate ranks in the top 5 highest among the state and top 10 highest in the country! The people he served and protected literally hated him just because of his profession. Despite the stigma and the challenges, Officer Henry Hunter chose to make an impact.

Screen Shot 2017-03-24 at 5.17.57 PMYou should never judge a book by its cover. Hunter is quite the imposing figure in and out of uniform at 6’4” and nearly 300 lbs. (He assures me he was much slimmer at 275 when he was on patrol). His big, booming voice commands attention. Imposing figure really isn’t a strong enough description. He looks and sounds like a BIG, SCARY DUDE!

But his heart is even bigger!

When Hunter was working in East Oakland he spent a lot of time at local group homes. The kids were constantly running away. Police would be dispatched to the group home. Then they would write the report and add them as a missing person to the statewide database.

The kids would typically return home of their own volition the same evening when they got hungry or cold. Then another report was written and then they’re removed from the missing person’s database. The way Hunter describes it, I visualize the movie Ground Hog’s Day.

This was a huge waste of police resources and prevented them from handling other, more serious issues and crimes or preventing them altogether. But the larger problem with this running away is that if left unchecked these kids get into much bigger trouble. Sometimes they commit serious crimes. Drugs and alcohol addiction, gangs, teen pregnancy, STD’s, violence, prison and sometimes death are very real possibilities. Kids without strong family support and less supervision are more susceptible to these pitfalls.  Quite often these kids become the parents of the next generation of children in the foster care and group home system. Hunter wanted to reach these kids, but how? They didn’t even trust their parents—if they were even in the picture that is. How was he going to get them to trust police?

He came up with a plan. He told the kids that if they could all manage to not run away for just 2 days that he would bring them soda. To his delight and the surprise of the staff, none of the kids ran away. He made good on his promise and with the help of a local store owner, brought all the kids soda. Since that worked he made them a new offer. No run-aways or serious behavior issues for 2 weeks and he would bring them all pizza. Sure enough, no runaways. With the help of a local pizzeria, those kids got a pizza party. They were responding much better to the possibility of a reward than with the threat of getting in trouble.

Hunter decided it was time to up the game. The new offer on the table—No runaways or problems for 30 days and he would invite everyone to his home for a BBQ. THEY MADE IT! Officer Hunter once again, delivered on his promise. This was probably the first time in their lives that anybody had taken an interest in them, let alone consistently came through on promises to them. Hunter had the entire group home, including the staff over to his house for an amazing BBQ packed with fun and entertainment. A friend of his donated a bunch of interactive games for the day. He had a 2-story tall inflatable bouncy slide, a Sumo wrestling ring and sumo suits, a boxing ring with giant boxing gloves, and even jousting pedestals. The kids, the staff, and the big scary policeman had a ton of fun. The kids bonded with him and he earned their respect. I suspect the staff bonded with the kids and had a better relationship with them as well.

Something amazing resulted from all this listening, caring, and positive reinforcement.

The kids not only stopped running away and getting in serious trouble but they started to see value in themselves. They just needed somebody to care and to believe in them. That’s what office Hunter did. He believed in them and helped them believe in themselves.  Hunter continued spending time with them and they played basketball a couple of times a week. Not because he was bringing them soda and pizza or the lure of another BBQ, he didn’t need to do that anymore nor did they expect it. He made and impact on these kids and helped them realize their value and they enjoyed having him around.

These children lived in neighborhoods where the police were the enemy. They are indoctrinated to hate them from an early age. Yet, they are asking a cop to hang out with them. For some of these kids he may have been the only consistent male role model in their lives.  I’m sure that the safest and easiest thing for police to do is to just continue filing those reports and picking up runaways. What good does that do though?  The kids don’t learn and they graduate to much more serious behavior. With a little understanding and genuinely caring about them—Officer Hunter reached these troubled children whom most had given up on. That is what I call making an impact! Hunter describes this as a heart of service. He assures me that there are many other officers that go the extra mile every single day. They do it without fanfare or recognition because the reason that they became police to begin with was to help others in their time of need. This is the reason behind my First Responder’s Only® Program. They are there for us when we need them so I’m going to be there for them when they need me.

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