Her people's cop
By John Joyce
Published in News on August 7, 2014 1:46 PM
Michelle Warren, American Legion Officer of the Year for North Carolina, visits with Samuel Meriweather and his dog while out on patrol. Ms. Warren keeps up a relationship with Meriweather and helps him out whenever he needs it. She even brought Meriweather his new dog after his former dog died, and there is a clear bond between her and the dog as well. "I would hate to know that I could do something for somebody and make a difference and not," she said.
Michelle Warren says hello to Malik Randolph, 12, right, David King, 13, and Ja'heem Randolph, 5, who are students at schools where she works as a resource officer.
When Goldsboro police officer Michelle Warren pulls up in front of Mr. Sam's makeshift home, she can barely contain a smile.
She knows he will be glad to see her. So will his dog.
"I've got so much respect for that man. He's a vet. He worked his whole life and now he is just trying to live," she said.
She feels the same way when she makes her rounds through her assigned sector of the community, and is greeted by the children and adults who live there.
Those connections are not just one of the best parts of Mrs. Warren's job as a Goldsboro police officer.
They are part of her commitment to her community -- and one of the reasons she has been named one of the profession's best by a group that knows what it means to serve.
Mrs. Warren met Sam Meriweather in January 2012 while on patrol.
He was siting in a chair outside some vacant apartments.
He and his dog had made a home out of the condemned building, and lived there as best they could.
Late that summer, however, Mrs. Warren pulled up and Mr. Sam wasn't smiling.
"He was in tears. He'd just found his dog dead the day before," she said.
Mr. Sam and his dog had been together six years.
Mrs. Warren couldn't get past the fact her new friend had lost his long-time companion -- his only true family -- and she worried about what might happen to him, since fall was approaching.
She decided to act.
"I got permission from my captain and went down to the animal shelter," she said.
Mrs. Warren picked out a dog she thought Mr. Sam might connect with. Then she went and picked up Mr. Sam.
He smiled as the police cruiser pulled into the parking lot of the animal shelter.
"He's a 70-something-year-old man," she said. "He got down on the floor with that puppy and rolled around."
Her eyes might have welled up were she not a cop in uniform.
She said Mr. Sam rode with her to the shelter in the front seat.
He rode all the way home in the back seat, with his new dog.
Michelle Warren graduated basic law enforcement training in December 2006 and was assigned to Goldsboro Police Department's D-shift as a patrol officer in February 2007.
Now a certified training officer who teaches new recruits the ins-and-outs of day-to-day community policing, Mrs. Warren leads by example.
That's why local American Legion Post 215 was proud to put her up for Law Enforcement Officer of the Year, which she received at the 2014 Annual State Convention of the N.C. American Legion held June 13 in Raleigh.
"We wanted to bring some attention to the community," Post 215 member James Moore said.
The Legion was looking for an officer to promote for the award.
Mrs. Warren's superiors had just one name in mind -- hers.
"My captain called me in and threw the application on the desk and said, 'Do this,'" she said.
She filled it out and turned it in not expecting much to come of it.
"I never did any of this for recognition," she said.
She did it because it felt right.
And it certainly was not easy.
A year and a half ago, the Goldsboro Police Department adopted a community policing program breaking down the city into sections or "wards."
Mrs. Warren's ward included Carver Heights Elementary School. Ninety-five percent of the students there come from government housing and impoverished families.
"The first day I pulled up, I had a 5-year-old yell, "Run, it's the po-lice!" Mrs. Warren said. "This is a 5-year-old. They should not be afraid of us."
Mrs. Warren knew winning their trust would not be easy.
She started out sitting with kindergartners at reading time.
"I'd go in there and just sit with them. Then I started reading to them, on the floor, you know, reading the smaller books to them," she said.
Over time, the children started inching closer.
After a while, they started to reach out wanting to touch her -- her badge, her uniform, her hands.
Now, she gets hugs.
Mrs. Warren hopes the relationships she is building with the children spreads to others in the community and helps change the culture around the city.
"We've still got a ways to go to get full community involvement," she said.
The key is getting people to see police officers as people.
"I would like to think they will recognize we are human. We just do a different job."
Mrs. Warren said everyone has a negative cop story to tell, but nobody wants to tell the good one.
"And there are a lot of them out there to tell, not just mine," she said.