Officer Mike Kirchen with President Barack Obama

Officer Mike Kirchen with President Barack Obama

Officer Mike Kirchen has always tried to cultivate a close relationship with the students at Lucy Craft Laney Community School, but his stock with them definitely rose after he was seated next to Barack Obama during the president’s visit last week.

Kirchen’s seat on the president’s right was captured in a Star Tribune photo that appeared the day after the North Side presidential visit.

Kirchen was included in the closed discussion of youth violence in large part because of his assignment as a school resource officer at Laney, or SRO.  The 16 SROs stationed in Minneapolis schools are Minneapolis cops whose official purpose is to keep the school safe.  But most of their time is spent cultivating relationships with students.

Or as Kirchen put it, ““I really wanted to get across that a really small part of our job is writing tickets and bringing kids down to juvenile.”  He tries to let students know cops as something other than a siren-blaring presence racing down the streets of the North Side by building relationships with them. He’s a bike cop in the summer and checks in with some students at home to see how they’re faring.

The day before Obama arrived, Kirchen had been in the room in a police training facility in the former Hamilton school, and noticed his preferred seating spot.  That dashed his hopes of keeping a low profile during the ensuing discussion of youth violence, where Minneapolis officials told Obama about strategies they’ve employed to cut youth violence by 40 percent.

Fortunately, Kirchen is used to spending time around elected officials after spending six years as Mayor R.T. Rybak’s bodyguard. The room consisted mostly of federal, state and local officials, and although there were also police brass there, Rybak put Kirchen at greater ease by pointing out that he was closer to the streets than anyone in the room.  Kirchen described his work, and told Obama it should be replicated across the nation.

His appearance in a photo next to Obama caused a sensation at the school, where even students too young to correctly pronounce Obama’s name know who he is.  So Kirchen is making the rounds of classrooms to talk about the experience.  He said the kids, sometimes squirmy even when there’s a canine patrol dog visiting, are rapt.  “The kids are captivated.  They just listen.  It’s just amazing,” he said.

Because he knew he’d be seated next to Obama, Kirchen brought a Sharpie pen and after the session broke up, asked the president to sign Kirchen’s name card with the White House insignia.  That spawned several other requests, and Kirchen said Obama gave him a mock see-what-you’ve-started look.  As Obama was turning to leave, Kirchen had one more request” “Mr. President, I need that pen back.”

Now it’s a souvenir for Kirchen’s three children, ages 12 to 16.  Kirchen, 47, is a 21-year department veteran who has also done patrol in the Third Precinct, walked a downtown beat, and been on the SWAT team.  But he’s well known for the bike work he does with other officers in the summer on the North Side, which includes giving out helmets, and even awarding bikes to kids he catches using those helmets.  It's called Bike Cops for Kids.