Middle and high school students in the Bronx Youth Empowerment Program had the chance to meet with the first African American Chief of Detectives for the NYPD, Rodney Harrison, at Evander Childs Educational Campus on East Gun Hill Road.
“Growing up, I lost a lot of friends to gun violence,” Harrison told the packed classroom. “Cops were disrespectful to me and a cop is the last thing I ever wanted to be.”
Harrison grew up in Jamaica, Queens, but attended Benjamin Cardozo High School in Bayside where his peers were mostly white.
Harrison told the class that he changed his feelings towards law enforcement while attending a kids vs. cops basketball game that was a part of the NYPD cadet program.
This was the first time Harrison experienced police helping and making connections with the people in the community.
Harrison went on to attend Springfield College in Massachusetts to play basketball and received a degree in physical education with the aspirations of becoming an athletic director.
After serious consideration, Harrison took the leap into police cadet program after transferring to York College in 1991 with the forever-looming question that is on his mind till this day, ‘How can I give back?’
With 27 years on the force, Harrison stressed to the children, “Not all cops are bad.”
“We’re in the business of helping people,” Harrison said.
Harrison briefly spoke about his two-year stint with the 47th Precinct as second in command for the precinct.
“It was everything from domestic violence cases to traffic issues,” Harrison said. “I oversaw everything in the precinct.”
According to Harrison, his success in law enforcement and ranking up through the years was largely due to his highly competitive native.
“I’ve always been a very competitive person against my peers,” Harrison said. “Whether it’s been in sports or at work.”
When the Q&A was turned over to the students, the YEP kid’s hands went flying in the air, left and right.
Harrison understands how significant it is to reach out to younger children to create lasting relationships with local law enforcement to better community ties.
“Kids are impressible and it’s important to mold them to having these positive views with police,” Harrison said. “Sometimes they are geared in the wrong direction and that’s why I talk to them about my own trials and tribulations growing up.”
Harrison still lives by his ‘How can I help?’ mantra since becoming Chief of Detectives. Even with the highly regarded position and being the African American to hold the position in the 200 years of NYPD’s existence, he choses to focus on why he joined law enforcement in the first place.
“It really hasn’t registered for me yet,” Harrison said. “I just want to sustain the work of my predecessors, support all the investigators, and provide them with the proper resources for their needs to keep the city as safe as possible.”