Kansas City’s Ryogoku Soccer Academy students and KCPD officers were more than happy to be a part of this photo shoot as they discuss their job duties and life as a police officer. Mayor Quinton Lucas (lower right) was on hand to show his support for the work all police officers do on a daily basis.



BY COREY CRABLE


Members of the Kansas City Police Department sat down with local children Nov. 19 at Ollama Coffee House on Southwest Boulevard for a chat and question-and-answer session focused on life on the police force.


Organized and led by Officers Chato Villalobos and Edwin Gordillo, the event allowed the youths to hear about each officers’ background, as well as hear inspirational stories about their experiences with the KCPD. Most of the children in attendance were students from Kansas City’s Ryogoku Soccer Academy.


Villalobos spoke about the importance of community interaction by police officers, as well as the great influence that mentors can have on young men and women simply trying to find their way in life. Villalobos said he counts Gordillo among those who have guided him on his current career path.


“He had an influence on me as a young Latino officer. He’s bilingual, and his parents are from Guatemala,” Villalobos said of Gordillo, the community interaction officer for the department’s East patrol. ”Now, every time a Latino officer comes on the force, I try to mentor them as he mentored me.” Villalobos said he counts Vincent Ortega and Ramona Arroyo as other police officers who have mentored him over his 21-year career with the KCPD.


Capt. Santiago Garza, the most senior officer at the event, told the audience that they, too, likely have mentors in their lives, whether they are friends, family members or even coaches.


“You can get mentors from all walks of life. Take that, appreciate it, and give back to somebody else,” Garza said. “Your coaches may not walk like you or talk like you, but be appreciative that you have someone in your life who took the time to be such a big influence in your life.”


As for the officers who addressed the crowd, as Hispanic and Latino men, they said they realize the importance of community members seeing police officers patrolling the streets who look and speak like them.


“This is real important for us. We have to set our own narrative as police officers. Other people shouldn’t be telling our stories. … When you have these opportunities, you have to show up for them,” Villalobos said. “Representation is very important. All of us have told stories about people who mentored us.”


In addition to showing Hispanics represented on the force, it also is important for Kansas City’s officers to show themselves working with the community to build positive relationships. Too often, they said, police have been painted in a negative light.


“The media touches on the bad things that happen,” noted Gordillo. “I want (kids in the audience) to take this experience and remember us – I want to show them it’s different out here in Kansas City. … We’re out here trying to build a community and get everyone closer together.”


Garza said that in recent years, police departments have partnered with nonprofit organizations to offer help to those with issues such a substance abuse. He said he hopes those partnerships are proof that officers want to get help for members of their community, not simply arrest them and take them to jail.


“For a long time, they would only come to you to take you to jail. But there are nonprofits that try to level the playing field and offer resources,” he said. “What made it hard was when people called 911 and the cops came into my neighborhood, they were taking someone to jail. Someone we cared about. Those officers were just doing their jobs, but now you’re seeing a lot more governments supporting wraparound services so people aren’t going to jail. … We have an opportunity to change that interaction with you. … The challenge is to find ways we can help people in crisis instead of just calling 911.”


The children in attendance weren’t shy when it came time to ask questions. Among the questions asked: “Did you have support in your family growing up?”


Villalobos noted that family can take many forms, using soccer teams and coaches as an example.


“I’m very blessed,” Villalobos said. “If you have support from family and friends, lean on them. You have to let people help you.”


Another question: “What aspects of your job didn’t match what you had imagined?”


“It’s not like the ‘Die Hard’ movies,” Villalobos answered, laughing. There isn’t as much chasing cars or jumping over fences, but there is plenty of paperwork that must be filed.


Some of the kids in attendance said the event encouraged them to think about policing as a serious career move, while others, like Jordan Huff, 14, a ninth-grader at Ryogoku, said he still wants to stick to playing soccer.


“I learned a lot – that people have different stories,” said Eric Sanchez, another Ryogoku student, who said he would consider becoming a police officer. “They really care about us.”


George Brown-Martin, 11, said he now has a greater understanding that “all people are people, and that everybody has feelings.”


“It’s been a good experience,” Brown-Martin said of the event. “I grew up with my mom teaching me that police officers aren’t bad. She taught me that they’re human, and they’re in their line of work because they care about their community.”


Garza, who grew up in the West Side neighborhood, agreed with that opinion wholeheartedly.


“This city is my city. It’s our city,” he said. “And don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do what you want to do. Don ’t ever give up on your dreams. No matter how old you are, hold onto your dreams.”


Gordillo said he loves his community, too, and encouraged those in attendance to be considerate of others in all they do.


“This is the community that raised me, that invested in me. I am definitely a West Sider first, and I’m glad this department opened its doors for me,” he said. “Empathy and compassion take courage. You have to care about other people.”