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May 21, 2010

When You Think No One is Looking…



I received the following e-mail from Aurora resident Rick Hernandez in response to my recent column about honor in policing:

I live around the corner from the new police station and a couple of months ago I noticed a little boy outside shooting baskets. He kept shooting and shooting and missing and missing. I could see from my vantage point that he was too close and shooting to the front of the rim. I’ve coached a little grade school basketball (at St. Joe’s in Aurora), so I decided to give him a couple of pointers. I found out that his name was Christopher and that he was smart enough to tell his Grandma that I was there. I showed him how to use the backboard when shooting in-close and told him about fundamentals. He talked a mile a minute and we spent about 30 minutes outside shooting baskets.

A couple of weeks later, as I turned onto Trask from Indian Trail, I noticed a Paddy Wagon on our street. I thought “Oh great, they’ve set up radar on our street.” As I continued past Christopher’s house, I saw a young Police Officer out in the driveway standing next to Christopher. I continued down the street and put my car in the garage. When I got out to unload my things I looked down Christopher’s way and saw that the young Officer was actually shooting baskets with Christopher. I was overwhelmed! After some deliberation, I decided to go down the street and tell the young officer that he had “made my day.” He said that his name was Officer Petchke (I’m not sure of the name or spelling), but I was impressed. He said that he had seen me out shooting with Christopher before. I’m not sure if he had stopped to check on me or if he was just spreading good-will with an impressionable grade-schooler but either way he was doing the right thing and the honorable thing.

It was exciting for me to see a young Officer take time out of his day to spend on an impressionable child. Young Christopher had his first one-on-one encounter with a Policeman be a positive one and that is something that I will carry with ME for a very long time. If you see young Officer Petchke, please tell him that I haven’t forgotten him.

I was so moved that Mr. Hernandez had taken the time to write me and I responded in kind. Furthermore, I went to roll call where I knew Officer Petchke would be beginning his shift and read the letter to him with all of the officers present. I took the opportunity to remind the group that while a great portion of policing is upholding laws and maintaining order, there is a component that is equally important – – building relationships with the community.

Over the years, policing has evolved from traditional (reactive) policing into a community-oriented (proactive) approach. This simply means that we have finally realized that the citizens and police can only be successful in combating problems in the community by working together. This paradigm shift has altered the negative perceptions and the adversarial relationship between the police and the citizens they serve.

I don’t believe Officer Nathan Petchke fully realizes the impact of his actions on that day. A citizen of Aurora “caught” a police officer doing something extraordinary. On the surface, it was a cop shooting some hoops with a child. But on a deeper level, it was a police officer giving a child his attention and teaching by example the art of human connection.

Someone’s true character is revealed by what they do when they don’t think anyone is watching. Someone was watching and the full implication of Officer Petschke’s actions may never be known but suffice it to say, that child might now have a favorable impression of police officers that he may not have had before that day.

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