NEW ORLEANS – Officer Rodney Vicknair, 50, joined NOPD 12 years ago after spending 19 years working EMS on the West Bank. He was assigned to the First District after graduating from the Academy and he’s been there ever since. After an eight year stint on the task force/general assignment unit, he recently became a Field Training Officer (FTO) and now serves as a mentor to recruits fresh out of the Academy.
What made you decide to change careers after being with EMS for so long?
“Just seeing the carnage that people do to each other. I thought maybe I can stop that or at least prevent a violent act from happening.”
Why did you sign on as a Field Training Officer?
“Lt McCabe asked me to be FTO and I said yes because there’s so much complaining from officers about what the recruits don’t know or what‘s not being taught at the Academy – stop griping and step up. Make a difference and let everybody succeed.”
This is your first time as a Field Training Officer – how is it going?
“It’s complicated. For example let’s say the situation is that a suspect bails out of a car on foot. If I chase him then my recruit is going to chase him too – they’re doing what you do so you’ve always got someone else you’re responsible for. You have to choose how you’re going to approach the situation then explain how you’re approaching it and why you’re doing it that way – and then you do it, but you’ve also got to tell them what things they may need to watch for while you’re doing it.
I want to make sure I don’t get hurt and the person I’m responsible for doesn’t get hurt. It’s a lot to process. Yes there are things we have to do because of the Consent Decree and we have to abide by it. Everybody’s got bosses.
I had to fail one recruit. I just didn’t feel comfortable sending him on to the next level because I didn’t want to see him get hurt and I didn’t want anyone else to get hurt because he hadn’t learned what he needed from me. But it worked out. I talked to his supervisor the other day and he’s doing great now – he’s really turned things around.”
What’s the best thing about what you’re doing now?
“The best thing is seeing them after they move on from working with me. Hopefully they retain the knowledge you give them, but you see them doing well on their own, moving up, applying to be detectives. That’s rewarding.
I tell them ‘I will always have your back as long as you’re doing the right thing.’ That’s why I got this this (My Brothers Keeper) tattoo.”
What surprises you most about the response NOPD officers get from the community?
“People know about the Consent Decree and the problems the department had in the past, but the changes Chief Harrison has put in place are going to make the department 100 times better. He’s a good man.
When (First District Officer) Natasha Hunter was killed, there were people that I’d arrested for guns or drugs or prostitution multiple times – people you just know are headed back to prison unless they change their ways – and I would be arresting them again and they would say ‘I’m really sorry for y’all’s loss’.
I think it helps that we’re doing so much community policing – we’re getting out more and talking with people. If I stop at a neighborhood store to buy something to drink and I see someone walking up to the door I will hold the door for them and say “Hi how are you doing today?’ They may not respond but I don’t take it personally. They might be having a bad day or maybe a police officer just arrested their son. It doesn’t matter. I can still talk to them, it’s just common courtesy. And if they see me doing that enough then maybe they’ll realize ‘Oh he’s just being polite,’ and maybe they’ll have a different perspective about us.”