|U.S. Park Police officer LaShaun Beckett hands out dental gum to children from the Standing Rock community in the Dakotas. Beckett works to benefit the at-risk children and families of Standing Rock through a community-outreach program she has developed – the Desire, Knowledge and Hope Initiative. Photo by Greg Lawler, OLES.
|A child proudly displays a “Star Student Award” certificate that USPP officer LaShaun Beckett presented to him for exceptional academic performance and behavior. Photo by Greg Lawler, OLES.|
|Officers from the U.S. Park Police and the National Park Service stand alongside Officer Beckett and a family that has greatly benefited from Beckett's Desire, Knowledge and Hope Initiative. Photo by Greg Lawler, OLES.
U.S. Park Police officer LaShaun Beckett pulls up to a home in a neighborhood stricken with poverty. As she exits her patrol car, three young children burst through their front door and run toward her with joy on their wearied faces, jumping into her arms as she bends down to hug them all at once.
Beckett has experienced first-hand the power of one individual to change the lives of a community in need. Drawing upon her experience in law enforcement and social work, she has developed a successful community outreach program — the Desire, Knowledge and Hope Initiative. She works closely with several communities in the Standing Rock tribal agency in the Dakotas to benefit underprivileged and at-risk children and families, as well as victims of domestic violence.
A USPP officer stationed at the Statue of Liberty National Monument in New York, Beckett recently deployed to Standing Rock agency in order to serve in the Department of Interior's Operation Alliance, a DOI high-priority performance goal.
The six-month program provides additional law enforcement officers from partner bureaus to assist DOI's Bureau of Indian Affairs with community policing at four reservations with high crime rates and lack of law enforcement services: Standing Rock, North Dakota/South Dakota; Mescalero, New Mexico; Wind River, Wyoming; and Rocky Boy's Reservation, Montana.
Operation Alliance supports BIA in providing public safety and working with tribal communities and their respective governments to protect life and property and to advance community-policing initiatives. To do so, it brings together the law enforcement efforts of the following partner bureaus:
The goal of Beckett's DKH Initiative at Standing Rock supports Operation Alliance by helping children develop basic values of respect, discipline, and integrity. Though still in its beginning phase, the program has already shown a significant change in behavior and an increasing sense of well-being within the community. Families complete group projects and activities together such as household and community clean-up efforts, arts and crafts, and relationship-building exercises. Beckett provides information and services to children and families about physical and mental health care, drug and alcohol abuse, gun safety, and suicide awareness, which are essential for a community with such staggering rates of substance abuse and addiction, depression, and suicide. “The people there desire change. So if you give them a little bit of knowledge and hope, you will see change”, says Beckett of her program.
Her compassionate outreach has been motivated by personal experiences growing up in New York, as well as her professional background in social work, which she employs as she steps continuously out of her job description to spend quality time with families and children and directly improve their lives. Many officers, like Beckett, have made great sacrifices to come to Standing Rock because of their concern for the tribal community. Beckett was away from her nine-year-old daughter for a month during her first time in the Dakotas. “She motivated me to focus on helping the children, because I missed her and they reminded me of her,” says Beckett of her daughter, whose name is Desiree and inspired the “Desire” goal of the initiative. Due to her success, BIA requested her for a second 30-day detail this August, and has returned to Standing Rock in order to continue her project, perform visits and check-ups to families in the community, and train other officers in the program so as to ensure its continued success.
Officers at Standing Rock have made their personal involvement with family and community a priority. They conduct daily neighborhood foot patrols, welfare and security checks, attend domestic violence meetings, participate in youth activity programs, and join in ceremonies such as the Day of Healing event. Officers have also met with Indian Health Services regarding health and dental care for at-risk youth. U.S Park Police Chief Salvatore Lauro expressed pride in Beckett, noting “[her] work demonstrates that all cultures have a common desire for safety, community, and a promising future. Officer Beckett brings her years of experience working with the underlying issues of social need to create a more effective law enforcement program.”
Each bureau involved in Operation Alliance has devoted a great amount of time and energy in appreciation of personal and direct community assistance. They have supplied valuable law enforcement officers during the bureaus' busiest season of the year in order to help tribal members. The Operation has seen much success in the form of crime reduction, as well as improved safety and security within the communities. “We're police officers, but we have heart and passion and want to see the society and community succeed,” says Beckett.
During her time at home in New York, Beckett keeps in touch with many tribal members. One young woman remains close with her via text messaging, telling her about new positive developments in her life, which in part Beckett made possible by her efforts. The young woman removed herself from an abusive relationship and into an assisted-living home, is working on her GED, and is now moving from assisted living to her own home.
Another woman who suffered with major depression and suicidal ideation, having herself lost four sons to suicide, has been feeling more hopeful about her life and is going to domestic-abuse and mental-health counseling, services which Beckett helped provide. “LaShaun's doing a lot of good. She's helping a lot of people in a good, positive way. We all love her, all appreciate her. [LaShaun] is a blessing,” she notes. “We had no support, no counseling. She's touched our hearts and made a big difference. Otherwise I'd still be locked in my home.”
One young couple whose infant child Beckett removed from the home due to neglect has since gone to behavioral counseling and anger-management classes together, have taken advantage of Beckett's parental skills training, and now enjoy a better relationship with each other and with their child. When asked if she thought the DKH initiative would leave a lasting impression on her and her community, the young mother responded, “For me [it will], because I never really liked looking ahead until I met LaShaun. She helped me get along with my husband and see life in a new way”.
The concern Beckett has expressed through the DKH Initiative has been a critical service in a community of learned helplessness and despair. She is only one person, but to each child and family at Standing Rock who has known her, she is hope.