“I’m here to help our young people. I talk to them honestly and openly, and I ask them to look beyond my uniform and badge.” – Immigrant Officer Egide Ndagije
Egide Ndagije is very personable. He exudes talent and unbridled joy. This new school resource officer who joined the Aurora Police Department in 2021, understands the uphill task ahead regarding the duty of the police to his community. This inspiring Rwandan immigrant who relocated to the United States at the age of 13, loves working with young people.
The Publisher and CEO of AfrikDigest Magazine, Azuka Idam had a one-to-one interview with the police officer who showed up for the interview with the APD police chief’s public information officer, Matt Wells-Longshore. In this interview, Egide Ndagije talks about his life, and job, and how he thinks the Aurora Police Department can improve its relations with the African or any other community. Please enjoy.
AfrikDigest: Can you tell me briefly about you?
Thank you for having me and for all your contributions to the community. I’m Officer Egide Ndagije from the Aurora Police Department. I am originally from Rwanda, in East Africa. My parents are from Congo, but I was born in Rwanda. I joined the police department in 2021, but I’ve been living in this country since 2010. I came from Africa when I was 13 years old and attended East Middle School and Central High School. I still work at Central High School as a resource officer. I have an Associate of Science degree from CCA Community College Aurora, and I plan to pursue a bachelor’s degree in physical therapy when my schedule allows it. I hope to become a physical therapist after I retire from the police force. In my spare time, I enjoy playing sports, hanging out with my family and community, and running a few side businesses with my brother. I love to interact with people without the uniform and show them that I’m a regular member of the community, and not just a police officer.
AfrikDigest: You mentioned that you work in a school. What does that look like?
As I mentioned earlier, I work as a school resource officer at Central High School. This is how I got here. First, I had to go through the Academy, which is like a school for cops. It took me six months to learn everything I needed to be ready for the job. I had to train physically, mentally, and emotionally. After that, I started working on patrol, responding to calls from the community. I worked nights and then swings. But I always had a dream of coming back to Central High and helping out. I wanted to help because I know what it’s like to be an immigrant kid who doesn’t know anything about America and speaks little or no English. That was me when I came here. So, I told my Sergeant that I wanted to be a school resource officer and work with kids. He would let me go to the school on my days off and help out whenever they needed me. I loved it so much that I decided to stay there full-time. That’s where I am right now. I love my job and I cherish every moment of it. Of course, there are bad days and good days, but we are here to help and to keep these kids safe. That’s our mission. I think of these kids as my little brothers and sisters. I don’t want them to get hurt or in trouble. I want them to succeed and be happy.
AfrikDigest: Do you have bad days? Tell me about the bad days.
My work at the schools is not always easy. You may have heard about the shooting in Nome Park that injured one of our students. It was a tragic incident that involved several kids who were hanging out in a dangerous area. We always warn them to stay away from there, but some of them don’t listen. Most of the kids I deal with are good, but there are a few who are involved in criminal activities. Some of them even bring guns to school. I became a police officer to help these kids, not to arrest them or give them tickets, but sometimes I have no choice. I have to do my job and enforce the law.
AfrikDigest: How would you describe your style of relating with the community?
I try to connect with people on a personal level and show them that I care about them. With the young people, I tell them that I’m like them, that I went to school here, and they see that I’m young too. I don’t let them intimidate me or disrespect me, but I also don’t treat them like enemies. I talk to them honestly and openly, and I ask them to look beyond my uniform and badge. I tell them that I’m here to help them but also to hold them accountable for their actions. I advise them to learn from their mistakes and move on. Sometimes they open up to me and give me more information because they trust me. I also spend time with them outside of my office, playing games, walking with them, and attending their sports events. Most of the kids here appreciate working with me, and I love seeing their faces in my office every day.
AfrikDigest: The African community does not seem to be interested in being in the police. Why do you think this is the case?
That is a very good question. I think one of the reasons is that many Africans come from countries where the police are corrupt and abusive. They have a negative image of the police, and they don’t trust them. They don’t realize that we are here to serve and protect them, and not to harm or oppress them. Another reason is that many Africans are afraid of the laws here. They don’t know their rights or how to interact with the police. They get nervous and scared when they see a police officer. They think they are in trouble, or they have done something wrong. Our community needs more education and awareness about the laws and the role of the police in this country. It’s not just an African problem though. Many other communities have similar issues with the police.
AfrikDigest: What do you think are the biggest challenges facing the police or specifically, the APD right now?
I think social media is one reason. Social media has a powerful influence on how people perceive the police. Sometimes, they only see one side of the story and do not hear from us or understand what we are doing. I want to share with you my perspective and experience as a police officer in Aurora. I work with a team of dedicated men and women who are here for the community. We are aware of our police department’s history and reputation, which have been damaged by some incidents that have been widely publicized in the past two years. However, we are not defined by those incidents or by the actions of those who are no longer with us. We are committed to making positive changes and following the new laws and policies that have been implemented. We are also working hard to help the community and gain their trust.
One of the ways we do that is by being respectful and responsive to the diverse needs and backgrounds of the people we serve. For example, as an African police officer, I have been able to connect with many African residents who feel comfortable and happy to see me when I respond to their calls. It does not matter if they are from Rwanda or any other African country. Representation matters. I have handled many cases where I was able to defuse the tension and communicate effectively with them. This also helped my colleagues to see them as people who are similar to us and to talk to them more easily.
Afrik Digest: Do you think the APD is doing enough to work more cordially with the community they serve?
I cannot answer why some people are scared of us or what is going on in other places. I can only tell you what we are doing here in Aurora. We have come a long way from where we were two or three years ago, but we still have more work to do. Our main goal right now is to make the community a better place and to restore their trust in us. We need your help and support to achieve that.
AfrikDigest: What kind of support do you think your department can give to our community to build trust?
Thank you for that question. I admit that I do not have a definitive answer right now, but I can share with you some of my thoughts and suggestions. I understand that the community has faced some difficult times and we are trying to overcome them together. Therefore, I think it is important for the community to engage with the police department more and to express their opinions and needs.
One way to do that is to attend meetings and events where the police department is present, such as council meetings or community forums. This would be a great opportunity for us to hear from you and to get your feedback on how we can serve you better. It would also help us to build trust and rapport with you.
Another way to do that is to reach out to us and introduce yourselves, especially if you own a business or live in a neighborhood that needs more attention or protection. We want to know who you are and what you do, and we want to help you prevent or deal with any crime or safety issues that you may face. If you request more patrols or visits from us, we will try our best to accommodate that. If you see us as your allies and partners, rather than your enemies or strangers, we can work together more effectively.
Finally, I want to encourage the young people in our community, especially those who are from Africa, to consider becoming police officers themselves. You may think that it is a difficult or impossible goal, but it is not. You just need to have good motivation and a passion for serving the community. I would love to talk more to the young men and women in our community about my own experience and journey as an African police officer, and how I can help them pursue this career path. I think having more diversity and representation in the police department would benefit everyone.
So, in summary, my main goals are: first, to have a positive relationship with the community; second, to have their support and cooperation; and third, to have their involvement and participation. I believe these are the keys to making our community a better place for all of us.
Afrik Digest: Matt, are there any thoughts you want to add or information that you want to pass out there? *Matthew Wells-Longshore (Public Information Officer, Office of the Chief of Police APD)
Yes, thank you. I think community buy-in is what we need. The APD is working with officers like DJ, to go out and show what the Aurora PD is about and how they can either be a part of it or support it. So, if anyone from any background wants to join the APD, it’s now easier. Recently, they changed the requirement for hiring. You don’t have to be a US citizen to join. You are eligible if you are here as a permanent resident, with a green card, and on your pathway to citizenship. So, for someone out there that may think that the reason I can’t go do this is because I’m not a US citizen, that’s not the case anymore. We are one of the first agencies in the entire state that allows that. I believe we have somebody who just graduated from our police academy who falls under that category. So those obstacles and boundaries that might have been in someone’s way in the past aren’t there anymore. So, we welcome anyone who desires to be a part of us. I think it takes interactions like this and publications like yours (Afrik Digest) to help get that word out.
One thing I want to add on the issue of the African community withdrawing from applying to be in the police because they feel like they’re not welcome. We want them to be and feel like part of the community. There is a program we call Citizens Academy where we offer the community the opportunity to attend and see what policing is all about in Aurora. Citizens Academy aims to help them get some more enlightenment about the laws, and they get to experience what the police face on a daily basis. So, I am inviting the African and other communities to our Citizen Academy to familiarize themselves with the department. I also have to mention our community relation section. If for example, the African community has events, we have resources at our disposal that could be of use at such gatherings. We have our gaming trailer which a lot of people have started reserving for their events already, we have officers that we can schedule and send to these events to help. You can have officers from our motorcycle team, our K-9 team, or even the SWAT team. They can come out to your community events and show off the fun things that we have, and we believe things like this can bridge the gap between the department and the African community.
One thing I want to add on the issue of the African community withdrawing from applying to be in the police, because they feel like they’re not welcome. We want them to be and feel like part of the community. There is a program we call Citizens Academy where we offer the community the opportunity to attend and see what policing is all about in Aurora. Citizens Academy aims to help them get some more enlightenment about the laws, and they get to experience what the police face on a daily basis. So, I am inviting the African and other communities to our Citizen Academy to familiarize themselves with the department. I also have to mention our community relation section. If for example the African community has events, we have resources at our disposal that could be of use at such gatherings. We have our gaming trailer which a lot of people have started reserving for their events already, we have officers that we can schedule and send to these events to help. You can have officers from our motorcycle team or our K-9 team or even the SWAT team. They can come out to your community events and show off the fun things that we have and we believe things like this can bridge the gap between the department and the African community.