(Just as a neighborhood should not be judged by the actions of a few bad apples, neither should law enforcement agencies. In partnership with the new Community Police Relations Project, The New Tri-State Defender's "Good Blue" column spotlights law enforcement officers who do it right. This week's focus is on Officer April Colbert of the Memphis Police Department.)
Officer April Colbert, a member of the Memphis Police Department Airways Station since 2011, is soft-spoken yet fiercely determined to bring people together. Born on Chicago's Southside, she moved to Memphis at age 13 with her mother, brother and sister. Hers is not a story of a youngster who grew up wanting to become a police officer.
An East High School graduate (1998), Colbert said her journey to the police force was inspired by a strange exchange between her and a Memphis police officer who had just given her a $200-plus speeding ticket. I recently caught up with Officer Colbert at a coffee shop off Walnut Grove and Tillman for this "Good Blue" conversation.
Kelvin Cowans: What brought you to start working hand and hand with CPR Memphis (Community and Police Relations)? Were you assigned, did someone pull your arm or did you simply answer the call of what you thought was needed?
Officer April Colbert: It was something that kind of fell in my lap. When I became the Neighborhood Watch leader at Airways Station, I went to a farmer's market that they had just opened up on Mississippi and Parkway. I met a lady there who had been working with the community and she told me about it. She was so excited and her enthusiasm is what brought me aboard. The very first time I attended a meeting I was very excited to be a part of something that was helping the community in that fashion."
KC: How important is community and police relations? Let's get real, you are indeed the police, the law is the law and if citizens don't follow it, you simply can take us to jail, period. True?
Officer Colbert: That's a harsh way to put it. You have to understand that policing is also people being able to interact with people. We all start the day out the same as the community, taking showers, putting clothes on, getting breakfast and there are no titles at that point.
KC: How do you deal with people that don't get that?
Officer Colbert: The same way I deal with everybody and that is I try to put myself in their shoes. I know that everybody is not right and everybody don't know how to talk to people. This kind of job will indeed show us what we don't do good to communicate. And communicating well eliminates a lot of things. I try to make people feel like I would want to feel.
KC: What made you want to become a police officer? Did the fact that you grew up in the Southside of Chicago tilt the scale to where you felt this way? It's well documented and broadcast that the Southside of Chicago isn't safe for police officers to live in, let alone citizens.
Officer Colbert: No, it was not a life-long thing. Once living here, I ran into several officers that gave me tickets for speeding, but it was the way they gave them to me. It was like they had excellent customer service. One guy was like, "I'm going to give you this ticket because you broke the law and you going to have to pay $200, but I'm doing it because I want you to be safe." I responded thank you.
Later I felt so stupid for saying that, but deep down inside I truly felt like he came at me from a place of caring because of his tone and approach. Prior to becoming a police officer, I was a flight attendant and after that I worked with the mentally ill. Then I was a personal trainer. These all fall under customer service. So in a unique way I could relate to him.
KC: Through research I came across something awesomely unnoticed in Memphis media. Could you expound on an accolade you were given for a blood drive you initiated.
Officer Colbert: Yes, in June of 2012 I headed up an effort in which we had an "I Bleed Blue" Blood Drive at our Airways Station to help officers who get hurt out in the streets while doing their jobs and also those diagnosed with illnesses that require surgery. We had over 100 participants and I look for us to continue to do this bi-annually, if not every year.
KC: I notice that you have on a Santa Clause hat that reads, "I've Been a Bad Girl." I'm at a lost of words because legally speaking that is impossible for you.
Officer Colbert: This was a gag gift from my friends, who never get a chance to trick me because I'm always aware of what they're trying to do when we're all just messing around. It's just a hat. I've been pretty good and I'm looking forward to a relaxing Christmas, watching movies and listening to some Mary Mary. I like that song they have titled "Go Get It." It's been a blessed year for me and I'm thankful for God's favor and like a lot of people say, "Favor ain't fair."