After a decade working in financial aid, Katherine Spear started getting restless.
Looking for new opportunities, she ran a quick internet search and clicked on the first thing that came up – a chance to volunteer with the St. Paul Police Reserve Unit, which supplements the police force.
“I sat in that Crown Victoria, started patrolling and I was hooked,” Spear said.
So hooked, in fact, that the St. Paul native decided to pursue a full-time career in law enforcement, leaving her job, enrolling in college and serving as a Metro Transit Community Service Officer.
This week, that leap of faith was rewarded as Spear was recognized as the Metro Transit Police Department’s Officer of the Year. She is the first woman to earn the recognition in the department’s history.
“It’s been a long journey — a lot of struggle to get where I am — so this is very humbling,” Spear said after the award was presented at the department’s annual ceremony on Wednesday.
Spear was recognized for her resolve as an officer, including one case in which she helped the department quickly identify and arrest a suspect involved in a violent attack at a light rail station. But it's the compassion she’s brought to her work that makes her truly unique.
Patrolling the Green Line for the past 18 months, Spear has worked to build rapport with customers, occasionally singing or dancing to brighten moods, and gone out of her way to help those in need. She’s also put her motherly instincts to good use, earning a reputation for her “mom voice” and redirecting youthful exuberance in more positive directions.
The empathy she shows toward those she encounters, she said, is partly born of her own experience. Spear is a single mother of three who faced financial strains as she worked her way through school.
“Yeah, I take down the bad guys, but at the end of the day it’s about unconditional respect for everyone you meet,” she said. “You have to see people as human beings.”
Chief John Harrington said that attitude is what made her stand out among her peers.
“It’s not about one heroic act, but the day-to-day examples of servant leadership that she demonstrates,” he said. “She is a team player who leads both by putting herself out there and putting people in need first.”
Spear’s father, Dan Spear, was initially taken back by his daughter’s abrupt career change. But the generosity and doggedness she’s brought to her new career aren’t a surprise, he said.
“She never ceases to amaze me,” said Spear, who grew up in St. Paul’s Midway. “When she sets a goal she really sticks with it.”
Spear was among more than 50 officers celebrated at the department’s awards ceremony.
Officer James Galland was presented the Timothy Bowe Memorial Award, which goes to a part-time officer. Galland is a Sergeant at the Hastings Police Department and has spent 17 years working part-time with Metro Transit police.
Officers were also credited for taking life-saving actions, putting themselves in harms way to protect the public and working quickly to apprehend suspected criminals.
“Your work in the past year will be hard to surpass,” Harrington told officers assembled at the ceremony. “I can’t count the number of calls, emails or letters I get every day thanking our officers for doing all the right things at just the right time in so many places.”