Immigrant stories: Goodwin spreads the gospel of community policing
John Goodwin is a retired police officer and a former professor of criminal justice at Colorado Mountain College’s Police Academy.
Goodwin: My mom came from Cleveland, Ohio, the daughter of Joe and Caroline Wesosky. They owned a butcher shop and a couple of apartment houses. He was a business guy. My mom had a younger sister and an older brother, Albert. And one day, a couple of guys came into the butcher shop to rob them. My Grandfather Joe and my Uncle Albert were there. Joe gave them all the money they had.
When the robbers fled, Joe ran next door and got a pistol and ran out in the street. He didn’t know how to operate the damn thing. I’m sure the safety was on and they shot him. Then Albert ran out and picked up the pistol and they shot and killed him.
Gallacher: Oh, John, that’s…
Goodwin: Oh yeah. That happened on Good Friday, and so every Easter after that my mom fell into a funk, because she adored her older brother. So I have some history of a relative being murdered and the effects of that on the family. My grandmother was never the same, the light went out in her. On some level, that was, and I didn’t know it for a long time, a thin little layer of my attitude towards helping people who have been on the short end of the stick and people who’ve been victims. Stuff sticks and doesn’t go away. We put it in places, so we can get on with things, but …
Gallacher: Well, that’s one of the bricks in your foundation, that influenced your decision to be a career police officer, right?
Goodwin: Yes. My dad came from Uniontown, Pennsylvania, and met my mom in Cleveland. He came from a coal mining family. What I got from him was always caring for the poor man. We would watch the boxing matches together every Friday night on television.
He always rooted for the underdog. He was a strong union guy, a motorman on the Cleveland trolley. What I got from him essentially was a disdain for people with money. So where did I go to work as a cop? Aspen, Colorado. That job gave me a chance to really have a hard look at those ideas about people with money and privilege and how to plug myself into that relationship and not let that disdain that was really woven into me, from birth, run me.
Gallacher: What happened between Cleveland and Aspen?
Goodwin: Well, I was conceived in Cleveland, but I was born in Glendale, California. During that time, my parents packed it up and headed west. My dad got a job running a gas station. My mom was at home. Over time, I got two sisters out of it, so there were three of us.
My dad became a pretty serious alcoholic, and that led to domestic violence in the house. My dad beat my mom.
Goodwin: At the time, I thought that everybody else led a “Leave It To Beaver” life and I was the only one growing up in that kind of situation. It took a long time for me to figure out how to deal with it. In fact, I was working as a cop in Aspen. And on the first domestic violence when we walked into the living room, the couple was still arguing.
I was 30 at the time but, when I walked in there, I became that 8-year-old boy again, and I froze. I became invisible, a skill I had developed as a kid. I knew how to blend right into the wall and keep my mouth shut. The other cop was essentially alone to deal with it.
When it was all over, I sat in my car and cried for about a half an hour. It was then that I realized I had to figure out how to deal with the memories and pain. I joined the Adult Children of Alcoholic Parents. And when I went to the first meeting, here’s the vice president of the bank, here’s the school teacher, all people I know. We were looking at each other, and it hit me like a freight train, “Oh wow, we’ve all got the same script.” It’s the same play. And so that’s the kind of household I grew up in.
Gallacher: How did domestic violence shape you? It must have been so conflictual for you, to love your dad in spite of what you had witnessed.
Goodwin: My love for my dad was different than it was for a lot of other guys. It took me a long time to realize he didn’t get up in the morning and make a list of how he was going to fail me and everybody around him. He learned to be a father from his father.
Gallacher: Well, it helps to get up in the morning and have a list of things that you’re going to do and not do.
Goodwin: Yeah, that’s true, and it connects to one of the basics of good police work: Don’t wait until you’re in a situation to decide what to do. Departments and officers who really want to be good at what they’re doing, practice ahead of time. Over and over.
We put ourselves in practice situations and then we sit down together and critique what went right and what went wrong.
Gallacher: You’ve spent your life spreading the gospel of community policing. Can you elaborate on what that is?
Goodwin: When I was teaching at the Police Academy, I would remind students that the Colorado Revised Statutes refer to us as peace officers. I wanted them to understand that words matter. When the Colorado Legislature decided to call us peace officers, they chose that word instead of law enforcement officers, instead of police officers. One of our goals as peace officers is to not make the situation worse.
At the academy, we taught that peace officers are in the business of asking first, then telling, and finally, making people do things. The truth is, in community policing, the majority of the time when we ask a person to do something or stop, they comply. And you know why? Because they know the officer, and the officer knows them. The officer has been out of his or her car walking around. They know all the shop owners, and they know all the bar owners. They take time to stop and talk with people. They establish relationships, and community members trust them.
But I’ll be real honest with you, talking can get real cheap here in the valley about some of these race-based issues. Because we didn’t deal with racial issues here.
Certainly not black and white ones. Brown ones, absolutely. But there’s a different dynamic there. The absolute truth is Latinos didn’t come here as slaves 400 years ago. They weren’t enslaved. And this is where the policing isn’t a standalone deal.
Gallacher: We’re asking the police to do a lot.
Goodwin: Yeah, my job was to take care of the problems and fix stuff that everybody else didn’t want to fix. I don’t know how many times I got called over to a house where a kid was acting up, and the parents expected me to straighten the kid out. And I would do the best I could just to get it peaceful there for the time being.
And so, over time you can begin to get cynical about the human race. So the antidote for that cynicism is to have as many fulfilling experiences with human beings as you can, to balance out the negative interactions.
I didn’t have a job because I was in a gunfight protecting people from bad guys, every day. I had a job to just keep peace in the community. It wasn’t law enforcement, it was peacekeeping.
Gallacher: So how do we make peace in these times?
Goodwin: Well, Derek Chauvin and the other three guys need to be held accountable, but there’s an endless amount of accountability to go around. The reaction right now is to pass legislation about cops. And that’s fine but we better start looking at the root causes of all this and what lies underneath.
Sure, the cops got to get their stuff together, but we’re only part of it. We’re not all of it. Don’t look to us to fix everything for you. You’ve got a community. Get busy.
Gallacher: Thanks for all the years that you spent trying to make our communities a more peaceful place to be.
Goodwin: Well there were plenty of other people that I was working with who were doing the same thing. They did the work, and they’re still doing the work. Good cops realize they are not self-employed. They know they’re not running their own business. They understand that they’re not working for the chief and or the sergeant that night. The good ones actually understand that they’re working for that guy out there on the corner. The guy they’re about to approach. That’s how it works.
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