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Harris Gains Perspective, Personal Growth Through Police Internship

Courtesy: CofCSports.com
          Release: 12/20/2012
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College of Charleston associate head coach Bob Clark was walking to TD Arena, with his Dunkin' Donuts coffee in hand when he was cut off by a police car. The officer said 'excuse me sir, we have had reports of an old male with a coffee cup making trouble.'

Clark was initially taken back and his heart was racing, until he looked in the passenger seat and saw his senior center Latisha Harris with a big smile on her face. Clark responded to the officer 'you should arrest this young lady for the layups she missed in our last game.'

Harris was doing a ride-along as part of her internship with the Charleston Police Department, an experience she will never forget.

Harris, a 6-3 center from Aynor, S.C., who is pursing a degree in Sociology with a minor in Crime, Law and Society has family that were police officers and was interested in doing the internship as part of a requirement for her minor and wanting to help people.

Her first meeting was with Sargent Adams, the director of the interns, who gave her a background check and took her fingerprints.

"I felt like a criminal," Harris said with a laugh.

Going into the internship Harris said she was not a very talkative person and didn't know how she would interact with people she had never met. When she talked to her coaches, one of which a former officer, they said to go in with an open mind and that she wouldn't be judged.

"As soon as I met the officers I shook their hands and gave them a big smile," Harris said. "I realized they are not stuck up just because they are police officers, they are people too."

Harris' main duties including helping out in the homicide department, organizing old cases by putting them in folders and binders and going on ride-alongs with various officers.

On one memorable ridge-along they were investigating to see if I person had a warrant. They caught the person going through a stop sign and began pursuit with their blue lights flashing. Harris remembered thinking the man would run and just as she said it he screeched his car to a halt, got out and bolted down the street.

Harris couldn't follow the officer, but she experienced a foot pursuit and heard the officer talking on the radio about the suspect. Looking back at it she said she learned to pay attention to detail.

Not all of the ride-alongs were as exciting, as many included ample down time. Harris used this time to talk to the officers and gain perspective on how they joined the force and their lives as officers.

Harris learned many of them choose the field because they wanted to help people and that many of them are involved in the community and visit nursing homes when they are on patrol.

"That is touching to me, because it's not so serious all the time," Harris said. "It lets you know that they do care about the community."

One of the ride-alongs Harris did was with officer Melinda Fife. Fife, who has been an officer for five years, played basketball at Virginia Commonwealth and West Chester before joining the force. Fife said Harris did very well during the internship.

"She was very attentive to detail, which is very important in this line of work," Fife said. "All the little things matter. You have to focus on your training and things you are taught, which applies to basketball as well."

Harris and Fife have become friends and talk and spend time together. Fife has been to both of the Cougars home games this season and plans to be a regular supporter of Harris and the team. The two are also planning a time they can get into the gym and play one-on-one.

"She is a beast on the court," Fife said. "She works hard and plays hard and her determination is one of her biggest strengths on and off the court."

Fife said she could see Harris being a police officer and noted her compassion for people and determination and focus as traits that will translate well into her post-basketball career.

Harris still has aspirations of playing professionally after college, but said she could definitely see herself being a police officer. She said she has learned a lot about herself through the experience.

"I learned that you can't be afraid to come out of your shell," Harris said. "If you don't you won't meet the people you are destined to meet or learn what you are supposed to learn unless you open yourself up to new possibilities."

Many skills that she learned as being important in police work also carry over to the basketball court, such as being mentally tough and keeping calm in high intensity situations.

"You need to be calm when dealing with people," she said. "I think that is also important during basketball. You never know when something might not go your way or make you upset and you have to take a second and calm down, so you can get your teammates together and play the game and be productive."

With a new coaching staff coming into the 2012-13 season Harris has seen herself grow as a person and her team grow as well. Harris said through the all work they did in preseason and through the adversity it brought them closer together. One particular task Harris recalls is the team running two and a half miles across the Arthur Ravenel Bridge with a rope attached to everyone.

"Everyone was hanging on to that rope tightly because we were all running together," she said. "No one was going to leave anyone behind. We were all together and holding each other accountable."

College of Charleston women's basketball head coach Natasha Adair said she has seen Harris grow up and become more vocal in practice and games.

"Once she graduates, if she is on the police force, if she is out on the beat, if she is playing basketball professionally, whatever her future holds, I want her to have that confidence," Adair said. "I want her to know she has had good teachings and know she has been in roles of leadership. I've seen her grow up and I'm excited about what is to come."

"She is doing everything I have asked her to do without any complaints and has done an exceptional job," Adair added. "I wish that she knew how good she really was. That is her being humble. She has an upside that is incredible. If it is my power as head coach and with the support of the other coaches, we are going to pull that out of her."

Harris' hard work has translated into a tremendous start to her senior season. After averaging 8.8 points per game last year Harris is tallying 15.3 points per game so far this season. Harris has scored in double figures in six of the eight games and has scored 23 points on two occasions. Harris is also the team's leading rebounder and is currently ranked sixth all-time in school history in blocks with 63.

Harris learned a lot through her internship and will never forget the experience. She kept a journal each day of what she encountered and by the end of it the journal was filled with police jargon. She was amazed at how much she picked up and appreciated the experience.

With her experience working with the police department she has grown and matured and met lifelong friends and mentors.

Back on the basketball court, last week Adair brought the three seniors into her office and told them they were in charge of practice that day. Adair said she did it to put them in roles of leadership and if they ran practice they would hold themselves to a higher standard and make everyone accountable. She also did it to give them that inner confidence they are going to need when they graduate.

"Latisha didn't shy away from it," Adair said. "She is not as loud by nature, but watching her in that practice setting, she was more vocal. She was in a leadership role. She was able to articulate to her teammates what she wanted. I was very impressed with the fact that she handled it like a champ and she is going to know down the road how these different examples of leadership have made her a better and stronger person."

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