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Joe's Neighborhood

Reflections of a 50-year-old cop

3/11/2015

The hallway is empty. High ceilings stretch off in the distance. Dark woodwork marks the openings for doorways hidden in shadowed recesses. And a low murmur of voices provides background. One-thousand-six-hundred voices to be exact.  Oh, yeah, and one cop.

I follow the directions from the front desk. Right. Then left. Then another left. “And then you’re there. On the right.”joes1

Now was that a right, then a left?

“I still hear the stories about my dad when he was a police officer. It was a different time back then. My dad grew up boxing. He was an east-side boxer. He brought that knowledge to my brother and me. We both knew how to fight. I grew up fighting. It’s come in handy sometimes.

I ask the guy at the front desk to give me the directions again. It doesn’t help. I know I am somewhere in Roosevelt High School. Lost for sure. Wandering the halls looking for the promised land. Will I have to re-enroll in high school?

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“I was aggressive in my early career. I was 23 when I came on to the Des Moines Police Department. I was probably immature. But I had a goal to put as many bad guys in jail as I could. With maturity came understanding. It is not always about putting bad guys in jail. I was on the SWAT team for 20 years. I was in the gang unit for nine years. I worked the east side on patrol. I was in the most aggressive areas of the department.”

I continue down the hallway. A little worried. Knowing that at any minute a bell will ring, the doors along the hall will open, and I’ll be swept away into teenage angst. Not a pretty sight. I didn’t do so well the first time around.

“I wanted to be where the excitement was. Where it was 100 mph with my hair on fire all the time. Chasing people. Being shot at. All that stuff was great, and exciting, and never the same thing twice. That’s why I loved the job. I absolutely loved it. And if they would have told me we’re going to take away half your pay, I would have still done it.”joes2

Finally, a voice calls my name at the far end of a long hallway. A waving figure in blue, handsome in a rakish way, with a big smile and a balanced stance, laughing and beckoning me with open arms. A man who is not lost.

“Like I say, with maturity and understanding, things started to change. It was a learned thing. It came from a lot of older policemen. They told me, it’s not all about putting people in jail; it’s about changing lives.”

Des Moines Officer Mike Moody gave me a big hug. Yes, a hug. Is this the crazy kid I taught in police recruit class 26 years ago? Whose enthusiasm to get the bad guys made me more than a little nervous? Who was so certain of himself it made me uncertain? Is this really Mike Moody? A school resource officer? It can’t be.

“My job now is to provide a safe place for these kids to come and get an education. I take it a step further. I want to get to know these kids, get to know what’s going on in their heads, in their families, what they do outside of school. So if they have a problem, they can feel comfortable coming to me, talking to me about it. It’s a completely different law enforcement. I went from kicking in doors and pointing guns at people, telling them to get on the ground, to sitting down in an office with a 16-year-old kid and just trying to figure out what’s going on in his or her life. To see what I can do to help them out. It’s cool. It’s a great change. It’s an awesome change. I love it.”

Officer Moody is interrupted as we sit in his office.

“What’s up, Anthony?”

“Hi Jordan.”

“Hello Michael.”

Clearly, I was occupying a chair reserved for these kids.

Officer Moody began to tell stories. A boy climbing up on a building at the shopping center to hold up a sign asking a girl to homecoming. A gang kid learning to trust Officer Moody as he relentlessly engaged the kid at school — day after day after day. Two girls being spiteful to a third girl, taking her purse, texting where the purse was located, and then the two girls crying in remorse in Officer Moody’s office. This isn’t complicated. Right and wrong, poor behavior and good character, wallowing and getting on with the task. Life lessons. Everyone ends up with Officer Moody for a chat sooner or later.

“I have a good rapport with many of these kids because I have the same maturity level.” Officer Moody laughs at himself — slow and easy. “I still haven’t grown up. When I was 15 years old, I told my dad, ‘When I grow up I want to be a policeman.’ He said, ‘Son, you can’t do both.’ I never understood what that meant until now.”

So this tough, aggressive, in-your-face cop sits behind a desk at Roosevelt High School in Des Moines, Iowa. Buying lunches for the senior basketball players, just so he can find out about their plans and make sure they have a future. Encouraging a freshman basketball player to persevere, when he sees the kid pouting on the bench. Shaking the outstretched hands of fathers he’s arrested, because the fathers are thrilled Officer Moody is watching over their kids.

“This is the greatest school on earth. I swear to God. It has the best administrators, the best teachers, and the best kids. Kids from south of Grand, kids from the ’hood, kids from the east side, and they all come here. I have not seen anything about racism; it is everybody hanging out together. If our city was as good as this school, we’d have no problems.”

Happy as a clam, Officer Moody is home.

“This is the best job on earth. I get paid to build relationships with kids that I actually like. I get actual feelings for these kids. I say to them, ‘Dude, I get to know you for four years. We are going to be great friends. Do you want to know the worst part of this job? When you graduate.’ ”

Officer Moody’s eyes glisten at the very thought. Really?

“I love the job, Joe. I can’t say enough about it.”

And Officer Moody leads me out of Roosevelt High School. Safe and sound. CV

Joe Weeg spent 31 years bumping around this town as a prosecutor for the Polk County Attorney’s Office. Now retired, he writes about the frequently overlooked people, places and events in Des Moines on his blog: www.joesneighborhood.com.

 

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