By DENNIS WYATT
Sean Dodge has found a way to discourage kids from running away from police. He runs with them.
The Ripon resident and Modesto Police detective is a co-founder of the “10k With a Cop” program.
“Running with kids is a good way to break down walls,” Dodge said.
Dodge and other officers that run with children at seven elementary schools in Modesto and Turlock don’t don running shoes and shorts. Instead they run in their full police uniform complete with boots and department issued gear weighing 25 pounds.
Dodge was inspired to volunteer on his own time to run with kids due to the negative connotation many youth have with their encounters with police. Dodge noted police — due to the nature of their jobs — encounter children during stressful times such as domestic disputes.
“It’s a way to show them we are human,” Dodge said.
That was driven home at one running session when a boy came up to him and told Dodge “you were at my home last night.”
Dodge hadn’t been but he realized youth don’t differentiate between officers when they come across them during trying times in a large part because all officers wear uniforms. Dodge said the boy ended up opening up to him effectively breaking down the proverbial wall.
The non-profit organization he co-founded with Stanislaus Sheriff Captain Neil Cervenka involved more than 450 kids in Modesto and Stockton last school year. Similar efforts modeled after what Dodge and Cervenka launched have popped up in Wisconsin, Missouri, and in Cook County near Chicago.
He’d like to work Ripon Police Chief Ed Ormonde and Manteca Police Chief Jodie Estarziau to start 10k With a Cop programs in their respective communities.
Officers — who run with kids after school at various elementary campuses — always do so in uniform. The program is designed to work the youth up to being able to run a 10k race (6.2 miles) over a course of several months after first starting with a mile and then ratcheting up the distance as the weeks go by. Prior to each run officers go through calisthenics and stretches with the kids. Each run is followed by an educational component that runs the gamut from nutrition to wellness tips.
Dodge had been involved in the Police Activities League as well as the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE). While noting they are solid programs with PAL, officers were directing activities and with DARE standing up and speaking to youth. But with the 10k With a Cop endeavor peace officers participate in the runs alongside youth.
Dodge said officers get positive feedback from parents as well as educators. Officers have been told participants have shown improvement in their attentiveness, behavior, and academics.
Dodge credits that to the goal setting nature of running and the self-esteem that comes with accomplishing goals. It also helps that youth are engaged in a physical activity and are being mentored.
Dodge has served as a Modesto Police officer for 22 years. The former Ripona Elementary School student is a 1992 Ripon High graduate. Ripon High is where he first got into running on the Indians track team where he clocked a 5 minute and 30 second mile. Dodge also played football. The lure of making money with an after school job sidetracked his prep sports endeavors after several years.
Dodge — the son of Rick and Charlie Dodge — originally wanted to be a firefighter before gravitating to his father’s chosen career in law enforcement.
Out of high school Dodge stopped running. When he started working as a rookie he found himself eating “to stay awake” on graveyard shifts. Eventually he tipped the scales at 280 pounds.
Not liking where he was headed, Dodge started running again. He also modified his eating habits.
Today the 46 year-old is at 175 pounds, the same weight he was in high school. He credits exercise with helping him to be able to handle stress, stay healthy, be more alert, as well as being sharper mentally.
“It takes both diet and exercise to control your weight,” Dodge noted.
Dodge started running in his uniform and boots — minus the rest of his gear initially — when he lived in Oakdale.
“It was crazy,” Dodge recalled of his first run in uniform. “I just decided I was going to do this.”
He worked up to the point where he was able to run a half marathon in uniform and full gear.
Dodge has run five Boston Marathons. Those were in full uniform and gear as were his successful completion of the California International Marathon in Sacramento, the Marine Corps Marathon, the Wausau Marathon, and the Las Vegas Marathon. That is in addition to countless 5Ks, 10ks, and half marathons that were also dressed as if he were on patrol for the Modesto Police Department.
Last year on Sept. 15 Dodge and Cervenka ran a 45-mile run to visit the gravesites throughout Stanislaus County where law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty are buried. At each cemetery they came to attention and saluted at the grave of a fallen officer.
Next up for Dodge will be running three marathons in uniform and full gear within a week in honor of three officers that had fallen in the line of duty. In the marathons he will be running alongside family members of the fallen officers. The marathons are in Chicago, Kansas City, and Des Moines.
He’ll squeeze it in between regular runs with students at James Marshall School in Modesto.
“It’s huge,” Dodge said of the impact of officers running in full uniform with kids. “It helps them understand we are people just like they are.”