Life Stories

LIFE STORIES: Chicago kid becomes Quincy school resource officer

Baldwin school resource officer Bill Calkins poses for a photo at Baldwin School on Wednesday, Sep. 13, 2017. | H-W Photo/Jake Shane
By Herald-Whig
Posted: Sep. 18, 2017 8:50 am Updated: Sep. 18, 2017 8:55 am

QUINCY -- An afternoon with Baldwin Intermediate School resource officer Bill Calkins is interesting, unpredictable and slightly chaotic.

When there isn't a crisis, his pace slows and he greets students -- they all know him as "Officer C" -- as he makes his way through the halls in full uniform. He ducks off into the office to grab an afternoon coffee and to meet with a Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) social worker. They meet regularly and have developed a rapport.

"We're like a bridge between the education system, the legal system and the community," Calkins said of his resource officer role.

Calkins is a transplanted Chicago-kid. His father was a plumber, but he died when Calkins was nine. The second-youngest of 12 children, he and his siblings spent most afternoons at Shabbona Park, the neighborhood park where most after-school activities were held, where most sports were played and where all of his peers congregated daily.

Law enforcement was never far away from the park. Officers assigned to Chicago's 16th District regularly patrolled it and took an interest in the kids who hung out there.

"They could recognize me based on my haircut alone," Calkins said.

The officers always had three questions for him -- "Where did you just come from?" "Where are you going?" and "Who are you going there with?" He didn't realize it at the time, but they were teaching him accountability. He now asks the students he encounters the same questions.

"It's another person who cares," he said. "You didn't find too much of that."

‘Brave, helpful and kind'

He isn't long into his coffee before there's an incident, and he bolts out the door to talk an aggravated student down. Taking a stern tone, he waits for the child to calm down before debriefing with the teacher and returning to the office.

As he enters the office, another teacher hands him a hand-written card from her daughter. The card thanks him for being "brave, helpful and kind," and Calkins reads it over a few times sticking it in his pocket.

"She wouldn't even talk to me when I met her," he said of the card's author.

He wasn't always going to be a police officer. He was originally meant to become a lawyer -- his second-generation Irish parents insisted -- but somewhere along the way that goal shifted.

When his father died, his mother, a secretary in the same school district he attended, still had half of her children at home. Working two jobs to make ends meet, his older siblings took on a more parental role.

"My sister taught me how to read," he said.

Higher education brought him to Quincy, as he enrolled at Quincy College after graduation. He wouldn't finish his schooling, dropping out at 21 and moving in with his brother, who was a probation officer and 10 years older. That's also when he quit drinking and began to consider his future.

"I can't tell you the day I started thinking about law enforcement," he said. "I knew I wanted to help people, and I began to think I could help more in law enforcement."

He lived with his brother for two years, but even after moving out, decided to stay in Quincy. He spent the next six years working two jobs, taking classes at John Wood Community College, studying and exercising. He was hired on with the Quincy Police Department at 28.

"I like to think what set me apart was my tenacity," he said.

‘We're a partnership'

Calkins still isn't done with his coffee when another situation arises, even after the final bell of the day has rung. A student doesn't want to get on the bus, because he is waiting for a ride that has not yet arrived. While the student waits in the office, Calkins takes a seat next to him. As they chat, the buses depart.

"We're a partnership," Calkins tells the boy. "I'll get you home safe."

Calkins has been a school resource officer for the last 18 years. School resource officers assume typical police officer duties, such as responding to calls and making arrests, but they also take on more of a mentorship role with students. He works out of an office in Baldwin but also teaches D.A.R.E. at other schools. Next year, he will be the school resource officer for all of the new elementary schools in Quincy.

"I love being here," he said. "This is the best job at the police department."

He walks a fine line with students, constantly bouncing between showing compassion and demonstrating his authority. His encounters with students don't generally begin on the best terms -- they're often prompted by some sort of incident -- but it has always been his goal for students to leave with a positive outlook toward police officers. His belief is that a positive early relationship with law enforcement will help students become successful, law-abiding adults.

"That's a good legacy for me," he said. "I think back to those guys that helped me as a kid."

Staff Writer Matt Dutton will bring you a story detailing the life of a local resident each Monday.

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