Student Stories

Booker Hodges

Resilience is Key: Booker Hodges DPA ’15

People say that it is almost impossible to overcome the situation you are born into, but Prior Lake's interim police chief, Booker Hodges Doctorate of Public Administration ’15, who grew up in a violent household that possessed no love for law enforcement, would be the first to tell you otherwise. Despite racist encounters Hodges had with law enforcement officers when he was young and the negative view his parents held of them, Hodges felt a calling to the profession.

“I’m not going to judge an entire group of people based on limited interactions or other people’s perceptions of them,” Hodges explained when asked why he turned toward law enforcement instead of against it. “I think this profession chose me.”

Hodges worked as a sergeant for the Dakota County Sheriff’s Department for almost ten years, and in that time he earned his Doctorate of Public Administration (DPA) from Hamline School of Business. His thesis, which focused on the lack of diversity in law enforcement and how that lack affects officers of color, has been used on a national scale as the basis of new research. Just the fact that Hodges received his doctorate is a notable accomplishment, as he was the first black officer from Hamline to do so—an achievement Hodges has used to support other officers of color who want to follow suit.

Upon graduating from Hamline, Hodges also started writing a column for PoliceOne, the largest law enforcement website in the nation. He has published articles based on his dissertation and said that officers around the country have contacted him with questions about how to recruit and retain officers of color. The pattern indicates what will hopefully be a shift in law enforcement demographics—a shift that Hodges believes should have occurred 30 to 40 years ago.

“The department should not look the way it does now in terms of diversity,” Hodges said. “But government agencies are slow to change—law enforcement probably more so, because people stay 25 to 30 years.”

The column Hodges writes focuses on neighbor relations, a phrase Hodges prefers over community relations because “it’s easy to segregate when you say community versus neighborhood; a community can be mine or yours, but we’re all neighbors.”

“If it were up to me, we’d have cops on foot, walking a beat, making those connections,” Hodges said. “Your crime stats might go down, but your relations would go up. And you’d get to see that not everyone is a bad person.”

This last statement is especially important when it comes to forming neighborhood relations. As Hodges pointed out, when law enforcement officers spend all day driving from call to call, they only see the worst in people. Law enforcement, Hodges explained, is practically the only sector of public administration where one habitually deals with the worst segment of the population.

“That affects the way you view the world,” Hodges said. “No one calls the police and asks them to come over because they’ve had a really good day.”

The mindset of being a part of and forming connections within a neighborhood parallels Hodges’ professional mindset: “The way to find out how a system really works is to be a part of it,” he said.

Being a part of the system is something Hodges knows well, as he is heavily involved in politics as well as public service. For five years, up until 2013, Hodges served as the Minneapolis president of the NAACP, and in 2002 he ran for governor.

The positions Hodges has held and the endeavors he has pursued would be impressive by any means, but they are even more stunning when contrasted with the fact that he initially dropped out of college because he entered with what he described as a fourth-grade reading level.

“I was always good at hearing something and somewhat understanding how it looked on paper,” Hodges said. “But in college, that ‘somewhat’ wasn’t working. I couldn’t comprehend the books in class.”

So Hodges returned to his hometown of Minneapolis and took a job valet-parking cars, where, during the slow times, he read the newspaper.

“I would read the newspaper and watch the O’Reilly Factor, and from there it progressed,” he said. “I just kept reading and watching TV to make those connections. It took about a year.”

“There’s a difference in not being able to manage the workload of college and not being able to do the work,” Hodges went on. “And the sad part is, a lot of people who go to school under those circumstances end up like I did.”

But Hodges did not let those circumstances stop him from returning to college and gaining dual degrees in political science and criminology or from attending Saint Mary’s and earning a master’s in public safety administration or from completing his doctorate at Hamline. That amount of schooling is not for everyone, Hodges readily admits, but for intellectuals passionate about public administration who want to contribute to society and provide direction to the profession, Hodges believes earning a doctorate is the best path.

“A lot of what dictates us is written by professionals who have never worked in this profession,” Hodges said, referring to law enforcement. “My goal is to see it dictated by people inside the profession.”

And, if Hodges’ recent contributions to law enforcement research are any indication, that is a goal that might not be too far away.

To learn more about Hamline’s Doctorate of Public Administration, visit the School of Business website or contact Graduate Admission