Q & A: Kirk Keffer, Inspiring & Most-interviewed Benicia Police Officer



 

Meet Kirk Keffer, Benicia’s most-interviewed police officer.

People magazine, CNN, the Washington Post, CBS, ABC, Inside Edition and many others interviewed Sgt. Keffer in 2016 to tell the story of a police officer who stopped and then helped a young man who was walking seven miles to his Vallejo home from his job in the Benicia Industrial Park.  The young man, Jourdan Duncan, was often at Kirk’s side for the interviews.

Kirk convinced the Benicia Police Officers Association to get a bike for Jourdan, and officers later launched a Go Fund Me page to cover the costs of a car and college for the then 18-year-old. 

The positive outcome of a white officer stopping a black man on a dark street provided a stark contrast to other encounters between police and young men of color. The Washington Post named Kirk one of the 11 most inspiring people of 2016, based on the chance meeting that started an ongoing friendship.

“It could have gone very differently. It could have been, ‘Hey, what are you doing out here?’” Kirk says, using a gruff tone. “But that’s not how I do things. You have to treat everyone as an individual.”

Kirk doesn’t take it personally even when exchanges with the public don’t go well. “Attacks are not personal. They’re just looking at the patch and for them, I’m the same bad experience they had when they were 15,” he says in an easy-going manner.

His police career began when he was 34. Kirk went to the police academy after working for Costco, as a newspaper delivery contractor, teaching martial arts, installing satellite dishes, operating a hauling business, competing semi-professionally in bodybuilding, and more. “I always had two or three jobs until I got to Benicia.”

Kirk, 46, joined the local force in 2008 after two years with the Contra Costa Sheriff’s Department. He was a corporal when he met Jourdan.

Kirk and his wife live in Benicia with three of their four children and their dogs, including Kirk’s retired K9 partner.  A grown daughter lives in Fresno, where Kirk grew up.

How did you decide to become a police officer? I’m LDS (Mormon). There was a lieutenant from the CHP in our church, and we were in charge of the young men’s group—taking them camping and all that. He saw how I interacted with the group and asked if I ever thought of going into law enforcement. I told him I’d always thought about it.

I went on a ride-along with the CHP. I just fell in love with it and I decided I was going to take the leap. There goes the retirement, the benefits from Costco. I went to the police academy at Napa Valley College.

Why had you always thought of becoming a police officer?  My brother got in some trouble (as a teenager), so we had some interaction with the police. I admired how they conducted themselves.

Also, growing up in Fresno, you’re exposed to drugs at an early age, to violence at an early age. You’re exposed to a lot of things at a very young age. I wanted to make things better.

What was it like attending police academy at age 34? Having this young kid yell at you to break you down—that was tough. I almost quit that first week. They break you down to build you back up, but you don’t see that at first. I decided if I’m going to fail, I’m going to fail because I tried, not because I didn’t try. …

The best thing Napa ever did was give us a pre-test. I bombed it.  I didn’t like that feeling and I decided I wasn’t going to repeat that so I studied hard.

What did you think when you first saw Jourdan walking alone at night in the Industrial Park? It caught me off guard. You don’t see people walking in the Industrial Park, especially at night. I thought maybe his car broke down. I asked him, “What brings you out here?”

He had the same courtesy for me. He could have been defensive, but he gave me a chance to talk to him, and he talked to me. He saw me for who I was, and we were able to have a conversation.     

Why do you think this was such a prominent story? I think people needed to hear that there’s still human kindness in the world. People can offer an olive branch without expecting anything in return.

Are you still in touch with Jourdan? We are. He works at the San Francisco airport. He loads planes, backs them up. He still wants to join the CHP.

A couple of months after the Washington Post award, the security consultant from the (Baltimore) Ravens reached out to me. He said they would be coming out to play the Raiders and wanted to meet us. I didn’t tell Jourdan; I just told him to keep those two days open. Two weeks before they played the Raiders, they called again to firm everything up.

We got to meet the team the Saturday before the game, got on-field passes for the game. I grabbed my kids and picked up Jourdan. We went to San Mateo College to see them practice on Saturday and were on the field for the game. It turns out the Ravens are Jourdan’s favorite football team. He was like a kid in a candy store.

What the difference between what we see on police TV shows and doing the job in real life? When you see it on TV, you’re kind of separated from the emotion of it. When you’re actually doing the job, you’re seeing the best that humanity can offer and the worse humanity can offer. …

You see someone who was drunk driving who’s taken a life—a successful person who was out celebrating a promotion or something. You see how lives change overnight.

When you’re working at Costco, you’re kind of sheltered from that.

What do you wish you’d known when you started here in 2008? You learn the job as you go, as it’s supposed to be. You have to experience it day to day. I think it all comes at the right time. You learn to be a better person, a better police officer. …

You gotta have faith, you gotta have God in your life, you gotta have the support of your family to do this.

What do most people misunderstand about being a police officer in Benicia? They think nothing happens. We have vehicle burglaries, theft from unlocked vehicles. Heroin is on the rise. There’s lots of opiates. When I started, you’d see maybe two people in one full year with heroin. Now there are hundreds a year. All officers are issued Narcan.

What do you like most about your daily work? I love being a sergeant. As a sergeant, I have the power of making decisions that change the outcome. It’s nice having that authority, that discretion, to get a good outcome and to have the support of the department to get that good outcome.

We can tow a car if the registration is six months or more overdue. But if that family is really trying and that car is their only form of transportation, we can use discretion.

What’s next for you? I’d like to continue down this path. I just started a security consulting business. … I show people how to prevent becoming a victim, or, if they’ve been a victim, how to restore a sense of security.

What’s the best advice you ever got? Probably that you can’t control others, that you can only control yourself.

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