Buchanan police sergeant fights crime and volunteers in community

Published 10:16 am Thursday, February 14, 2019

BUCHANAN — Before dawn on a Saturday morning in December, Buchanan police sergeant Harvey Burnett was prepared to spend his day off serving as Santa Claus — helping local children in need pick out gifts from the Niles Walmart shelves. Despite the early morning hour, Burnett’s enthusiasm did not wane, even as the children practically dragged him down the toy aisle in excitement.

For Burnett, connecting with his Buchanan community in addition to protecting them from crime comes with the badge he wears as an officer.

“My philosophy has been that as a police officer, we are part of the communities that we serve,” Burnett said. “The relationships that we build with the community are what helps to make a difference.”

Burnett has been on the Buchanan police force for more than 23 years. He has served as the department’s sergeant for about 12 years, overseeing six officers.

When Burnett thinks back to what inspired him to be an officer, he thinks back to growing up in inner-city Detroit and his mom, Janice Burnett’s quest to improve her community. Janice volunteered at a mini-station, a place where an officer is assigned to care for that neighborhood area.

“My mom was my inspiration for volunteerism in a community,” Burnett said.

Through this experience, Burnett met another hero and role model, Paul Jackson, an African American officer, who first showed him that a policeman’s duties were not just fighting crime, but forming connections with their community.

“[It was the] concept of changing the community by building partnerships through community policing,” Burnett said. “He provided a positive image of what police officers are.”

Jackson would work with businesses and neighborhoods to increase awareness about not only crime prevention but efforts to raise money to better the community.

The impact he saw Jackson and his mom make on the community inspired him on his path to being on the police force. His first experience working for police was as a volunteer reserve officer in Detroit. Burnett became certified to be an officer after graduating from Kalamazoo Valley Community College. Burnett also earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Michigan and a master’s of divinity at the theological seminary of Andrews University. He also received his doctorate in counseling psychology from Andrews.

As Burnett advanced his experience as an officer, he never forgot the importance of giving back and Shop with a Cop is only one example.

Burnett has served on the Buchanan School Board for many years. He also volunteers his time to help on One Buchanan panels, a recently formed group with the mission to inspire discussion and diversity in the local area.

Burnett is also passionate about educating youth about the dangers of drug and alcohol abuse. He volunteers with D.A.R.E. to teach children these lessons.

Berrien County residents are also likely to see Burnett volunteering at the annual National Night Out, where locally police host numerous youth activities. Burnett can also be found in the classroom. He frequently visits local schools to talk and connect with them. He is also an associate professor in psychology at Andrews University.

In the more than 23 years that he has served, Burnett sees the relationship he has built with his Buchanan community as one of his most significant accomplishments.

“Being able to see that over the years is something I’m glad to see,” Burnett said.

With this effort, he said he hopes to serve as a role model and improve the relationships between police and their communities.

“The challenges that we see in policing and law enforcement today … it is still a challenge and we still have to work on it. But it gave me a perspective, where I grew up not being afraid of the police where some of my friends and others in the African American communities may have experienced [that].”

During Black History Month and the months beyond it, Burnett draws inspiration from a number of African American heroes from poet Langston Hughes to former President Barack Obama.

When he thinks of the great leaders in his own life, he is reminded of the words of Martin Luther King from his book “The Measure of a Man.” King’s writing described how humans not only have the ability to see the stars but comprehend them as well.

For Burnett, this goes back to the message he learned from his mom, Janice and Jackson.

“We have ability to comprehend and build relationships with each other,” Burnett said. “We are marvelous and if we would put that comprehension into more positive things, we would be better than what we are now.”