Building Bridges Through Mentorship

September 24, 2020

Written By: Shiloh Francis

Posted In: Elevate Magazine

As a senior officer, ccc had the pins to prove his years of experience in the Rapid City Police Department. One night he answered a call for service with a new, rookie partner. The two walked into the home and the people instantly went to the other officer. A rookie deescalating the situation faster than a senior officer, how could that be?

“He had an immediate level of trust,” the now police chief reflects as he tells the story. That rookie officer was Native American, as were the people at the call.

This was one of many moments throughout Hedrick’s career he would come back to throughout the years. He assumed the role as police chief in August, and is committed to continue the efforts of building a department that better reflects the community it serves.

“Historical trauma is a real issue for our community,” he acknowledges. “Some Native Americans might be hesitant to join our department due to law enforcement being a symbolic representation of generational mistrust. Building bridges is something we are continuously working on.”

One way they’ve been working to address the shortage of Native American officers has been through the Akicita program.

The program began in 2018 with more than a dozen participants each year. Western Dakota Tech students with an interest in pursuing a career in law enforcement are paired with a mentor from the Rapid City Police Department or Pennington County Sheriff's Office. It introduces students to various fields throughout the justice system and allows them to network with professionals in the field. At the same time, the RCPD hopes that it helps to break down the walls keeping someone from applying to the force by getting to see behind the scenes and meet the faces in uniform.

Cameron Moser-Asbjeld is a quiet, humble, hard-worker. He worked two jobs from the time he was 18. He currently serves in the National Guard in addition to his career in the department. At the same time he is also working toward his Bachelor’s degree at Black Hills State.

He is dedicated to his work. But more than that, he has a desire to serve his community.

“I grew up in Rapid City. I know how rough it can be for kids here. I wanted to be a person who could be a part of the solution.” For him, the mentorship experience was a foot in the door.

Unlike many students, he went into the criminal justice program already knowing he wanted to be a police officer. Through Akicita he was not only able to meet other police officers, but also gain experience with some of the specialty departments, an opportunity not available to most.
In the nearly two years since joining the department, Moser-Asbjeld has been a part of some headline-worthy calls. Two of which included active shooters. And while those get the adrenaline pumping, that’s not what the job is about for him. “It’s the everyday calls that matter,” he explains.

Like the opportunity help a victim of domestic violence, with the hope their interference was able to save a life.

Or going back to his childhood neighborhood where he can engage with kids and encourage them along the right path.

This is why he wanted to serve that specific neighborhood. “I grew up there. I know the stigma that comes with it and how hard it is to be surrounded by people making poor decisions.” Being a familiar face gives him the advantage of an “immediate level of trust” that Hedrick recalls.

While he has not signed up to be a mentor through Akicita, Moser-Asbjeld is one in his own right, though his humility would keep him from admitting it. There are several kids from his former neighborhood he “keeps an eye on,” hoping to keep them out of trouble. “I simply want them to see me and know they can choose a different path in life…but at the end of the day it is their path.” He has helped connect one with resources, and even encouraged him to return to school.
In a time where tensions between the public and police departments are high throughout the country, it can be even more difficult to recruit officers. But Hedrick also credits the work of the department for the positive relationships in Rapid City. “Trust is fragile,” Hedrick admits.

Because of that fragility, he knows they cannot take anything for granted. They work hard to not only train officers, but to develop a positive culture. “We want people who do the right things, for the right reasons.” Which is why officers are given the flexibility to solve a problem rather than simply enforce a law.

For example, discovering a mother has no car seats, an officer was able to go to the store and buy car seats rather than ticketing.

Or showing up to a petty theft call only to find a parent was stealing formula to feed their baby. The officer was able to connect them with community resources.

These are only two examples of how the Rapid City Police Department works to live out its mission. They are more than words on a wall. It is at the very core of the work they do:

  • Community First.
  • Service Above Self.
  • Integrity-Driven.
  • One Interaction At A Time.

Chief Hedrick will admit there is still work to be done. As a former mentor of the Akicita program he knows that “learning goes both ways.” Through intentional work to build bridges, his hope is to continue to bring diversity to the criminal justice field throughout the region. 

It’s not about the heroic calls that make headlines, it’s about making a positive difference with every encounter.