Officer Edgar Rodriquez was just beginning his 12-hour shift when the call came in: A little runaway needing a little reset of the compass. “Today I have a follow-up with a boy. He’s having a hard time and he keeps walking off.”
It was a high-level meeting – Rodriguez isn’t only a beat cop – he’s also the police chief here in Moville Iowa, about a half-hour outside of Sioux City It’s a town surrounded by corn and soybean fields – a pretty pastoral setting, to say the least.
“Being a police officer is more of an extension of my ministry,” Rodriquez said. “That’s exactly how I see it.”
A ministry in every sense of the word. “Chief Rodriguez” is also “Pastor Edgar” at Moville’s New Hope Evangelical Church.
Correspondent Lee Cowan asked, “How do you think being a pastor makes you a better police officer?”
“So, as a pastor, my focus is serving people. If I can’t love the community, love the people, then I won’t be able to serve them well.”
His congregation includes his wife and kids, who all understood the risks, especially at a time when police officers are often viewed with more skepticism than pride. But Pastor Edgar is a reminder that it doesn’t have to be that way.
Cowan asked, “Is there a place for compassion and understanding in today’s policing?”
“Absolutely. Absolutely. It’s not about taking people to jail every day. It’s about how we can help a person every day.”
Moville is home to only about 1,800 people, two gas stations, no stoplights. It’s quaint, yes, but hardly quiet. “We haven’t had a homicide, thank the Lord, in our town in a long time,” Rodriquez said.
“That said, it’s not Mayberry?” asked Cowan.
“It’s not Mayberry, thank you! Very good, yes.”
For anyone wondering if “Pastor Edgar” has what it takes to be “Officer Rodriguez,” his bodycam footage should answer that. He’s a former Marine who came to this country from Mexico, a proud heritage that sometimes gets thrown in his face: “Every now and then I forget that I’m a different, my color’s different than most of my community. Every now and then somebody will remind me.”
“In a not-so-kind way?”
“Yes, in a not-so-kind way. But those are far and in between.”
He got the Chief’s job about a year-and-a-half ago, and he’s been determined to change the image of law enforcement, starting with what he wears. “For a small town I just feel that it’s a little too tactical, too military,” he said. “I think we need to be a little softer.”
And what message does he think that sends? “It says that we’re approachable.”
When he went to visit 78-year-old Bonnie Holts, he was there to help catch the bad guys that robbed her of $1,400. But he was also there to offer an ear, a shoulder, and maybe a prayer.
“I love you, Bonnie,” Rodriquez said. “Lord, give her strength, give her strength and courage, Father God. Amen.”
“Thank you,” said Holts.
“Yes mam. I’m just around the corner, so call me anytime, ‘k?”
It’s not all hugs and kisses. He’s arrested plenty and hauled them off to jail. But it’s about a 30-minute drive to get there, and he uses that time to try to understand who he’s arrested.
“I want to know what they’re going through, and that’s how usually my conversations start – what made them get to the point where now they’re in handcuffs and they’re in the back of my car and they’re going to jail.”
“It’s not what they did, but the why that you’re interested in?” asked Cowan.
“Right, what got ’em there.”
That was how Agnes Bojoboj met “Pastor Edgar,” by being arrested: “I didn’t even know he was a pastor until he told me,” she said.
Once Bojoboj found out that he was a pastor, she opened up. His squad car became more of a rolling confessional.
Cowan asked Rodriquez, “You could have just made that drive in silence.”
“Still done your job.”
“Yes, I could’ve. I don’t think I would have felt very good about myself if I’d have just done that, knowing that I had an opportunity to help somebody, to encourage somebody. It doesn’t take much.”
Bojoboj now rarely misses one of his Sunday sermons.
Cowan asked, her, “So, have you been arrested since?”
“Nope, I changed my life right there.”
To be fair, small-town policing does have a kind of built-in intimacy. But for Edgar Rodriguez, it is that intimacy that makes the twin callings of pastor and police officer too personal to ignore.
Cowan asked, “Are there any lost causes for you?”
“No, no. There can’t be … I can’t think that way,” he replied. “I don’t necessarily believe that there is a limit, that once you’ve failed 10 times, then we should forget about you. You’re always going to fail. I think we should just keep on trying, because that’s what God did.”
A message, he hopes, is shinier than his badge.
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Story produced by Aria Shavelson. Editor: George Pozderec.