As St. Kate's director of public safety, former cop Laura Goodman puts community first.
BY ELIZABETH FOY LARSEN | PHOTO BY REBECCA ZENEFSKI '10
Laura Goodman's connection to law enforcement and security started early. "I was something of a juvenile delinquent myself," admits St. Catherine's straight-talking director of public safety, a woman whose 30-year career in law enforcement has earned her national and regional acclaim.
Raised in St. Paul's Highland Park neighborhood in the 1960s and '70s, Goodman, now 56, always challenged the established order. "I wanted to know why we were doing things the way we were," she says. "I was asking, 'Couldn't this be easier?'"
Goodman ran away from home as a teenager and dropped out of Highland Park Senior High in 10th grade. She landed in juvenile detention while she awaited her court dates. Her eventual decision to become a police officer — she received her police officer license in 1979 after earning her GED — was a natural outgrowth of that experience. "I felt like I would have a better understanding of what juveniles were going through," she says.
Goodman brings both an edge and a sense of empathy to the work she does today, whether it's enforcing parking regulations or reassuring students that it's OK to report a suspicious-looking character on campus. "I think a lot of people in law enforcement are people who were on the fringe," she says. "Whatever bad things have happened to me, the experiences have taught me something. How I felt I was treated as a youth, for instance, has allowed me to listen to people."
She maintains good relationships with former police and sheriff's department colleagues, as well as with her peers at neighboring colleges and universities. "You have to know people and be able to get them engaged and start working together when a crisis happens," she explains.
St. Kate's St. Paul and Minneapolis campuses are known for their relative safety and peace and quiet. If anything, that's all the more reason for Goodman and her crew of officers to be proactive and prepared. "I am sort of the 'what if' person," she says. "It's easy for people to assume that everything is safe, but we still need to be planning for the situations that aren't."
Those situations include the burglaries that are endemic to every college campus, and student safety issues such as orders for protection against abusive ex-boyfriends or spouses. Goodman also ran a daylong workshop last year about how to handle an armed intruder on campus.
To protect and to serve
Five years into the job, Goodman has made several changes in the way public safety works on both campuses. Most critically, she says, she has trained her officers to be respectful but vigilant enforcers: "My goal as a leader is to give my team the resources they need to be confident, so that if a fire alarm or panic alarm or medical alert sounds, they know what they need to do."
Her connection to St. Catherine University began in 1984, when she attended classes in the Weekend College program. By that time she was a Ramsey County deputy sheriff eager to take on new challenges. "I absolutely loved the feeling in the classroom at St. Kate's," she says. "I felt like I had a voice. The instructors and professors cared about what I had to say."
Over the next two decades, Goodman held positions in the Minneapolis Police Department and as the Minnesota State Office of Crime Victims Ombudsman, where she served two governors from two different parties. She retired briefly in 2005, after two years as deputy chief of the Brooklyn Center Police Department. But then she read an online posting for the public safety job at St. Kate's.
"I just felt like I needed to be here," she says. "Because I had been a woman who's willing to speak out — something that doesn't always go over well in a male-dominated environment — I thought that my voice would be more valued at St. Kate's."
Goodman ran for Ramsey County sheriff in 2010. Although she narrowly lost her party's endorsement, she believes that she started a larger dialogue about community policing and neighborhood crime — and her conviction that domestic abuse is at the root of societal violence.
Her department's mission sits at the bottom of every e-mail Goodman sends: "The Department of Public Safety is guided by the following principles: consistent, fair, transparent."
Elizabeth Foy Larsen is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer.
Director of Public Safety Laura Goodman's personal experience influence her professional direction.