By Erika Ayn Finch
Victor Rodriguez started changing the face of the St. Paul Police Department in his work as an AmeriCorps member in the Law Enforcement Career Path Academy (LECPA). A partnership between ServeMinnesota, the St. Paul Police Department and Century College, LECPA was designed to increase the understanding of the American legal system and improve trust in local law enforcement.
This is exactly what Victor hoped to accomplish with his service.
Victor, now 24, was accepted into the two-year program in May 2017. As a member of LECPA, he took classes and spent time each week fostering positive relationships between law enforcement and the community of St. Paul, especially its youth. In full uniform, Victor and his classmates would go to the library and help students with their homework or hang out at the rec center, playing games and sports with kids.
“There was a young girl at the gym who was scared of the police,” says Victor. “Now, she comes up and hugs us when she sees us. Kids will remember forever the positive interactions they’ve had with law enforcement.”
Years ago, this may have seemed like an unlikely path for Victor. In high school, he had numerous run-ins with the law and graduated from high school by the skin of his teeth. At 18, he found himself on his own, raising his brother and trying to make ends meet. “I tried going to school, but I just had too many bills to pay,” he says.
His own difficulties – and seeing the difficulties of others from his neighborhood – inspire him daily in his work.
“I had struggles in my childhood, family-wise and streetwise, and it makes me want to be that person who shows support to other kids that are struggling,” says Victor. “I can tell them that they aren’t alone and that I’ve been there. If I’d had that – someone who would have been like a father – I would have turned out better and not made the same mistakes.”
After joining LECPA, Victor and his brother moved back in with their father, and Victor has made strides with his family. “They believe in me now, and that’s something I never felt before,” he says.
Victor estimates that during his service in LEPCA, he spent about 80 hours a week between LECPA and his part-time job as a Metro Transit community service officer, but says he is willing to do whatever it takes to become a police officer. And his plan is working: After graduating from LEPCA this year, he joined the St. Paul Police Department Leader Corps, and he plans to attend the Police Academy.
“I grew up in St. Paul, and I want to help change this city,” he says. “I want to change people’s mentality toward the police. When I started this program, I didn’t know how it would play out, but I’m so thankful for it. It’s affected my life more than I ever thought.”