When a large number of Citizen Potawatomi Nation Tribal Police officers stand outside the Tribal Court, it draws attention. More often than not, such a gathering portends something positive, as was the case on May 3, 2019. Longtime Tribal employee Angie Dawkins was the focus of a promotion ceremony recognizing her advancement to the rank of lieutenant.

Dawkins grew up outside the small town of Meeker, Oklahoma, a few miles north of Shawnee. Her family lived on a farm, where she grew up hunting and shooting. Her father became a police officer in town, and Dawkins always asked to ride along while he was on duty.

“He kept making excuses for why I couldn’t go. ‘You’re not old enough.’ Well then, a few years go by and I’m 8; he says, ‘Well, you don’t have a badge.’ One of the firefighter’s wives, who was friends with our family, heard him say that. She had an official badge made and a certification signed by the mayor showing that I had been deputized,” Dawkins said.

Angie Dawkins receives her lieutenant stripes from her son, Cody Sellers, at the May 3 promotion ceremony.

The next time her father received a call to go out, Dawkins insisted on accompanying him. When he again told her that she didn’t have permission, she presented her official badge and deputation card.

“That’s all I ever wanted to do,” she said. “I just wanted to be an officer.”

She still has the badge and deputation card today.

After graduating from Shawnee High School, she worked odd jobs until age 21, when her best friend’s father asked her what she was going to do with her life. He was an FBI agent and encouraged Dawkins to attend the Oklahoma City Police Academy.

For Dawkins, it was not a hard sell. Her father, on the other hand, was not supportive. By that time, his law enforcement career was over, and he was not as enthusiastic about the profession.

“He told me right then I couldn’t do it,” she said. “I kept thinking to myself, ‘Maybe he sees something in me that shows I can’t do that.’ So, I didn’t.”

Staying in touch

Instead, Dawkins went to school as a paralegal. She worked for 14 years in that profession, staying connected with the criminal justice system. Yet she never felt like she had a career where she belonged.

“When you know what you’re supposed to do, and you don’t do it, nothing else is right,” Dawkins said.

She came to CPN in 2007 thanks to her paralegal training, working under Judge Phillip Lujan as a court clerk in the CPN District Court. In that position, Dawkins became acquainted with industry professionals. In 2009, the court prosecutor at the time convinced her to go through the reserve officer academy. Later that same year, she became a reserve officer.

“At that time though, I’m getting older,” she said. “I’m telling myself ‘I can’t go through the academy.’”

In one final push to pursue better opportunities in the paralegal field, she left CPN for a job at an Oklahoma City law firm.

She lasted five months.

“I missed the Tribe. Day three I was mentally done; I needed to come back,” she said.

CPN Detective Russell Ross was a good friend of Dawkins and told her about a patrol position that opened up. Dawkins demurred, reiterating that a 48-year-old going through the Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training Academy was not a likely prospect.

“I told him I had been sitting at a desk for 14 years. I didn’t think I could do it,” she said. “He told me I could and that I belonged at the P.D. I started thinking, ‘What if?’”

Next, CPN Detective Lee Minick put in a call to Dawkins, speaking with her for two hours as she sat in her office in Oklahoma City. He convinced her to come in to fill out the application, and Tribal Police Chief James C. Collard ran into her inside the police department.

“He said hello to me and asked if I was filling out an application. I got hired that night,” Dawkins said.

She went through the CLEET academy for 10 weeks. For Dawkins, the two most difficult aspects were re-entering the classroom setting after more than a decade of working as well as the defensive tactics.

“Fighting doesn’t bother me; I can fight. But they have methods, and to me, those methods are like dancing. And I can’t dance. I have no rhythm,” she said.

Seven days of 10-hour courses helped hone those skills, and after graduating, she became a full-time patrol officer for CPN.

On patrol

Before her recent promotion to lieutenant, Dawkins served as evening shift sergeant. The position provided her with the opportunity to lead a small staff of officers as they took on what is typically the most hectic shift. Teaching new Tribal officers about the nuances of policing for CPN comes with its own set of challenges.

“The only thing about tribal … you have to learn how to become a police officer, (know) your tribe’s laws. Because it is federal land, so we need to know federal law too,” said Dawkins.

For officers new to CPN, that transition can be difficult, even if they come from a law enforcement background. Along with state law, all CPN tribal police officers are certified by the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs or are working toward it.

“We are a force that doesn’t get a lot of calls (compared to departments in higher crime areas), and we have to think about it differently,” Dawkins said.

Part of her approach may come from her time working in the court system, seeing the product of arrests. Dawkins encourages officers under her command to not take an “arrest first” approach when responding to a call. This method fits in with Chief Collard’s community policing focus implemented to build closer ties between the force and the citizens they serve and protect.

“Everybody’s human. The officers are good about putting themselves in that position. They ask themselves, ‘If I arrest, is this the best thing for the community, the subject, the Nation? Is there a better way to handle this?’ They learn to think about it before making an arrest, and if they do, it’s justified,” Dawkins said.

While providing direction for CPN police officers, Dawkins also emphasizes the force’s support role for fellow agencies in Pottawatomie County. In southern, rural portions of the county, Tribal police officers are often the immediate backup on scene for the local police departments or county deputies. She credits Tribal Vice-Chairman Linda Capps for encouraging Tribal employees to look out for neighboring communities as they would their own.

“If they’re out there by themselves, (our response) is us being good neighbors. If we’re cross-commissioned with them, we’re going to go out there and help them,” Dawkins said.

Full circle

In spring 2019, Dawkins received the promotion commendation to lieutenant in the same room where she once served as a court clerk. Her son Cody pinned the new lieutenant stripes to her uniform.

Around five years ago, Dawkins said that Cody came to her, asking permission to sign up with the Oklahoma National Guard at only 17.

“My exact first words were, ‘You can’t do that,’” she said. “He looked at me real funny, and I thought to myself, ‘Oh my God, that’s what my dad said.’”

At that moment, Dawkins understood her father’s reaction all those years ago when she told him of her intention to be a police officer. It never crossed her mind that her son would be a service member. Rather, she was scared knowing the risks involved.

“Maybe that’s what dad meant; he was scared for me,” Dawkins said.

Her son continues to serve in the National Guard, and he is currently a REACT emergency medic in Pottawatomie County. As Dawkins sees it, he is following the footsteps of his grandfather and mother to answer calls for help in the face of emergencies.

“We’re a family of first responders,” Dawkins said.