By Jessica Bruha
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — Norman Police Sgt. Jennifer Newell’s last day as a police officer is coming quickly, but her work for Oklahoma isn’t done yet.
After serving 21 years as an officer, Newell is taking her experience in community relations and crime prevention and applying it to her new role. As of Dec. 2, she will be the new program manager for the Oklahoma School Security Institute at the Oklahoma Office of Homeland Security.
A retirement reception for Newell is being hosted from 2 to 3 p.m. today at the police department’s multipurpose room. Her last day, before vacation, will be Saturday.
The program manager position is new and was created by the state legislature during the last legislative session, Newell said.
“I believe my major job is to create relationships between law enforcement and school districts and to make sure they understand how important that relationship is,” she said.
It’s something Newell is familiar with through her work with the Norman Police Department.
“Norman Public Schools and Norman Police Department have had a very long, very solid relationship, and I want to see that replicated throughout the state,” she said.
While she is excited and looking forward to the new challenge, there is a little uneasiness going into the new job.
“It’s somewhat like what I’ve been doing here, but on a much larger scale. But for the past 21 years, I’ve known where I’ve worked, what my day looked like and what I was supposed to do. So to close that door and open this brand new door is exciting and terrifying all at the same time,” Newell said.
When asked what she will miss the most working at the police department, she replied, “Teddy,” referring to MPO Teddy Wilson, who shares an office and works community relations with Newell.
In all seriousness, she said she will miss working with the people she’s met through her career the most.
“I’ve just worked with so many great people throughout the city, and I’ve just gotten to know some absolutely amazing people,” she said, adding with a laugh, “plus, Teddy’s a good cook.”
Working with people is her favorite part of the job, Newell said. From working with the “teeny tiniest” of babies to working with senior adults and even the strange phone calls in between, she wouldn’t change any of it.
“I love what I do. I still love what I do. I feel very privileged that I’ve gotten to do it for so long,” she said.
While her new office will be in Oklahoma City, she said she and her family still will reside in Norman.
“Norman is still home, and I feel so grateful that I’ve been able to live and work in the same place for as many years as I have,” Newell said. “I still want to be involved in the Norman community and, in fact, I’m going to come back and help with our child passenger safety program because it is something I’m extremely passionate about.”
Looking back, Newell still remembers her first day in the police academy. She said they had to take care of insurance, so everyone was asked to dress business professional. She was the first person there, in a blouse and slacks.
“When my fellow cadets started showing up, they assumed that I was like the secretary or something because I was the only female in the academy. And, of course, they figured out pretty quickly that no, she’s part of the academy,” Newell said. “But it was just really funny. I guess the assumption is that if you’re a female, you’re probably not here as a police officer.”
She became interested in being a police officer while she was working as an administrative clerk in a warrant task force for Cleveland County. Working with several different law enforcement agencies, it began to pique her interest, she said.
At the time, she had been accepted into law school at the University of Oklahoma but had been working so much between school and work, she became exhausted.
“The thought of working one job was like a miracle,” Newell said. “I’ve always been interested in the law but didn’t know where that was going, what that was going to look like in the end.”
When she joined the department in 1992, she thought all she ever wanted to do was patrol work. That’s what she was getting hired to do, and that’s all she thought she was ever going to do.
“I think most officers don’t know what all is available within the police department,” she said. “There’s so much more than just patrol officers that make up the police department.”
In 1996, she was encouraged by Sgt. Doug McKenzie to apply for the position she is in now and will soon be leaving.
Newell said she always enjoyed working with children and talking to adults, but she never imagined it would turn into the rest of her career.
“I just remember sliding in and going, ‘This is really cool,’” she said. “And nobody was in this position to train me. It was empty.”
Talking to Phil Cotten, the police chief at that time, she remembers asking what he wanted her to do. His advice was to get involved in the community, she said, which is what she did and what she will most likely continue to do on an educational level in her new job.
Newell said when she announced her retirement, she received emails saying, “I do not give you permission to retire until my child/grandchild goes through Safety Town with you.” Many people are sad to see her go.
But, with a laugh and an apology, Newell responded that she knows she is leaving Safety Town and other programs she handled in capable hands.
“(Safety Town) has been a fun program. That has been a blast. The hottest of hot summers and pouring down rain and all sorts of fun stuff,” she said. “One of the coolest things has been working with my Safety Town kiddos.”
She even worked Safety Town when she was seven-months pregnant, which was fun and crazy, Newell said.
“I’ve been out there so long that I have kids who went through Safety Town with me and then they’ve been volunteering with me, which is just absolutely incredible,” she said.
Newell said she’s going to miss her job and she’s going to miss working with the people not only in the community but also in her office. All of those relationships and experiences that have helped shape her will surely help her shape the relationships between law enforcement and school districts on the statewide level.
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