Sophomore Dakota Brooks knows the worst stories.
She listens closely as her dad, Don Brooks, recalls the time a bullet whizzed past his ear before he shot his attacker twice to protect himself and his fellow officers. She hears about how a woman ripped a chunk out of her dad’s right hand during a routine traffic call. She remembers hearing that off-duty Wyandotte County deputy sheriff Scott Wood had been shot seven times at the 7/11 off of Interstate 635 and Shawnee, and then she remembers spending the night in the hospital’s waiting room with her dad, waiting for news.
But Dakota also knows the good stories.
She knows that her dad took in a sixteen-year-old runaway until her mom got a steady job. She knows that he helped a woman in labor off her toilet onto the floor and delivered her baby before the paramedics arrived at her house. She knows that he has filled the saddlebags of his motorcycle with candy and handed it out to kids on Halloween.
“When you solve little bitty problems for folks, it doesn’t get any better than that,” Don said.
Dakota’s always been familiar with gold police badges: her father, her maternal grandfather Jim Vaughn and her older brother Justin White are all either current or former police officers. Conversation about her dad’s new gun or her brother’s high-speed chase down Route 169 always meant Dakota would be plopped down on the floor, listening with her eyes wide, and wondering what it would be like to go through something like that herself.
From these stories, she’s learned that saving a life will always outweigh the fear of losing your own – and now she plans to create her own stories of adrenaline and public service and join the police force. So she’s starting her training now.
“When you’re little, you always think life is this fairy tale and everything’s perfect and everything’s going to go right,” Dakota said. “Then things start to go wrong and you start to see that life isn’t that fairy tale anymore . . . [but I saw] it like ‘My dad [can] prevent that from happening’. When I get older, I can prevent that from happening to another little girl, so she can still hold onto that [fairy tale] for another year.”
While Dakota can’t join the Police Academy until she graduates, she is already learning as much about the field as she can. She’s taking Forensic Science and First Aid-CPR, a course that teaches students about emergency medical services. While these classes don’t directly correlate with police training, many of the skills that paramedics learn translate into the law enforcement career, according to First Aid-CPR teacher and paramedic Brieanne Miller.
Miller thinks Dakota has an edge over most other students in the class because of her desire to pursue a career in the police force, as well as her experience watching Don work.
“When you’re an expert at something, it rubs off on everyone in the family,” Miller explained. “If your dad’s a mechanic and you’re a seventeen-year-old, you’re going to know more about cars than the average seventeen-year-old.”
Dakota had the opportunity during her freshmen year to participate in scenario-based training through the Johnson County’s “Explorers” program where she worked with police officers from different precincts throughout the county. The program trained her in about 10 different areas throughout the seven-month course. On one end of the spectrum was Shawnee’s canine unit, where she learned how to work with a police dog, whether it be sniffing for drugs or tracking missing children. On the other side of the spectrum, Overland Park’s hostage negotiation unit, where she had to repeat a hostage simulation in which scenarios appeared on a screen and she had to detail a plan of response, four times before she finally got it right.
During the hostage simulation, she recalled her dad’s lesson from the month before about the “five minutes of darkness.” He instructed his daughter on how you can almost always talk an active shooter out of their violent state and resolve the conflict without a shoot-out.
Through what she’s gathered from dinner conversation and adrenaline-filled tales of the family business, Don is confident that no matter what branch of law enforcement Dakota decides to go into, whether it be hostage negotiation, the canine unit, or something that she’s never tried before, she will be “a good cop.” Although he will always worry about her because of the “inherent risk” of being in law enforcement, he trusts that she will be able to rely on her training and fellow officers to bring peace to civilians all while protecting herself. And he knows that once she’s gone through training, everything she’s learned from watching him will click.
“A cop is a counselor, he’s a psychiatrist, he’s a doctor, he’s a priest,” Don said. “There’s a lot of jobs that cops do . . . I know that [Dakota]’s watched me. She’s watched her brother. As she grows, she’ll develop those techniques.”