"Grande Mocha is a mixture of coffee, hot chocolate and milk. If I had my way I'd definitely go by Starbucks every morning. Unfortunately, there's not one in my area, so I get by here as often as I can," said Captain Faith Cunningham of the Shelby County Sheriff's Department.
Starbucks was a cool enough place for me, so I focused in on the interview. I'd read that she'd been on the force for 16 years, having spent eight years before that in the Reserves.
Kelvin Cowans: Tell me, what have you learned about people in all this time?
Capt. Faith Cunningham: "People all want to be treated with respect and dignity. Even the bad guys want to be treated nice and of course there are times when that works out and sometimes it doesn't work out. But even when you're a victim of a crime or a suspect of a crime, they still want that level of respect. It can be a challenge, but as a police officer you have to know to give that until it's not time to give it. It's important that you don't start out raising your voice although the situation may lead to that. But in the end, it is police work and you may just have to lay hands on someone."
KC: And when you say, "Lay hands on someone" I take it that you're not talking about praying for them.
Capt. Cunningham: No, I'm not talking about praying for them, although throwing some holy oil on some of them might just work, ha. However, I do pray for them at the beginning of my day.
KC: What got you involved in CPR (Community Police Relations.)
Capt. Cunningham: I was actually volunteered to go and check it out, and when I did, I really liked it. This group is coming from a different angle and I'm all for fresh ideas in a progressive group.
KC: I feel you on that. I was thinking myself that it's a rather old idea when you look at it from the grandfather neighborhood watch group. Yet, this group is not necessarily about who broke in the candy lady's house. This group is about talking directly to the police about how you feel about them and later we'll get around to talking about the candy lady and who may have did what.
Capt. Cunningham: Exactly, and I think it's going to be a force. I think we still have some work to do by getting our name out there in the neighborhoods and all. The first question that people are going to ask is, "What is CPR?" And then, why should they care.
I know for a fact that us law enforcement guys, we have the power to help push anything in the right direction. You have to know that in our line of work you may not get a chance to see us or interact with us unless it's the worse day of your life, and we're judged a lot during just that time. Is it fair? I'm not sure, but it comes with the job.
KC: Speaking of coming with the job, Memphis City and Shelby County Schools have now merged. This obviously means more officers in the schools. ... I graduated from Kirby High School in the mid 1990's when it was a County School, and although we had an officer in our school he didn't see much action. As a matter of fact, I remember him joking with us for like three years that sooner or later somebody was going to do something to get in trouble and he'd be right there and ready. I believe that you have to agree with me that the jig is up.
Capt. Cunningham: True. Not counting the merger, we're currently already in 15 schools in the county. If I'm not mistaken, we're headed into at least 18 more schools. And yes, many of those schools are going to have two officers in them. It's going to take a lot of patience on our behalf, but overall kids are kids are kids.
I see us having to really work with the community as this evolves and again that comes right back around to community and police relations. Being in urban schools now the public has to know that weekend issues will sometimes spill into the schools on Mondays, so we have to be ready as law enforcement and the community. We have to be one.
KC: I see that you see this entire thing as a cup of mocha half full. Where did you learn that behavior, in your upbringing?
Capt. Cunningham: Yes, I was raised a church girl. Born and raised in Michigan, then when I was about 13 years old we moved to Marion, Ark., and then on to Memphis, Tenn. My Mom named me Faith and I hated that name as a child because all the kids would tease me so bad. They would say I talked funny and everything.
KC: Well, have you noticed the irony of that? They teased you because your name was Faith, and now it's obvious that we all had better have some faith in something if we want to accomplish anything.
(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 Captain Faith Cunningham of the Shelby County Sheriff's Department.)