Today was a very special Books & Badges for Columbus Division of Police Deputy Chief Tim Becker, as he got to return to Westgate Community Center, the rec center where he spent much of his youth. The current Center Manager, Denica Bruce, even knew the people that worked at the center when Chief Becker roamed the halls, and despite a renovation a few years ago, he said it's still the same place he remembers.
One of the current rec center workers also grew up going to Westgate and she and Chief Becker agreed that they know all sorts of secret places within the center. Denica said they'll ask her when they need to find something because she knows everything about the center. Nothing like a child who's NOT supposed to be getting into things to know all about a place!
Chief Becker read selected poems from Shel Silverstein's "Where the Sidewalk Ends" to the summer campers, and each child received a copy of the book to keep. One little girl didn't want to follow along in her copy--she wanted to be able to read the entire thing fresh on her own because she was so excited to have it.
As he read, Chief Becker asked the kids questions about their summers and their lives and shared stories of his childhood with them. One was VERY surprising--he and his friend caught a shark in Westgate Pond. No, none of us believed it either, but the father of one of his friends had a frozen shark leftover from a conference that he put into the pond. Chief Becker's friend overheard him talking about it while he was supposed to be asleep. So the next day he and the Chief got up and went fishing for it in the pond. They caught it and ended up on the front page of the paper as boys who caught a shark in Westgate Park. You should have seen the looks on the kids' faces when the Chief got done telling that story! (If you can you find this article for us, we'll feature it on our page.)
The kids got to ask the Chief questions about his job and policing. One was if they're allowed to go fast (yes, sometimes, if they need to). He was also asked why he had a gun because Westgate is a no weapons zone (we thought that was a very good question). After Denica explained that the center makes exceptions for the police, Chief Becker told the children that all officers carry guns in case they need them, but they don't use them very often. He said that he's been with CPD for 32 years and he's never had to fire his weapon except on the shooting range. Of his 35 academy classmates, only two of them ever had to use theirs. So, it's rare for officers, even in a big city like Columbus, to have to use their weapons.
After the question and answer session, Chief Becker autographed the books for the kids and chatted with them. It was really fun to visit the center where he grew up, and we ended the event with him sharing stories with the staff about some of the mischief he got into when he was younger, and how the center has changed. For example, they used to shoot Airsoft rifles and roller skate inside (not to mention the trampolines!).
Thank you, Columbus Recreation and Parks Department for having us! We appreciate you and look forward to our next event.