As a School Resource Officer for Bakersfield Police Department, Charles Pratt has spent the last several years working with kids and answering the many questions they have for him.
“What’s it like in the back seat of a police car?”
“Can anyone see through a one-way mirror?”
And his personal favorite?
“When I grow up, can I become a police officer?”
For Pratt, 45, working with kids and being able to answer their questions is one of the main reasons he decided to become a police officer.
But before he reached that goal, his life took him in several different directions — and into different careers — before bringing him back to his childhood dream.
As a young boy, Pratt had a collection of miniature police cars that he played with while he pretended to catch bad guys. He recalls the day he met his dad’s friend, who worked for Bakersfield Police Department. He was awestruck to see a real-life police officer in his home.
A four-year-old Pratt remembers having a hundred questions and getting to sit in a patrol car while thinking to himself, “I am going to grow up and be a police officer.”
The moment left a lasting imprint, and is the inspiration for his new children’s novel, “Excuse Me, I Have a Question,” which is a story of two friends, Chucky and Timothy, who get to shadow a Bakersfield police officer for the day.
Chucky and Timothy get to ride in the back seat of a squad car, learn shorthand when talking to dispatch on the car radio, and witness a traffic stop and see how it is handled from the perspective of the officer.
The publishing of his children’s book is a dream come true.
“As soon as I became a police officer I knew I wanted to help bridge the gap between police and kids,” Pratt said. “I remember not seeing a lot of African American police officers, and it made me want to get into schools so I can share my experiences, and get to kids at the right age, before they start making bad decisions.”
Pratt wrote his children’s book in 2021 and published the book at the end of the year. He hopes the story of a “day in the life” of a police officer told through the narrative of a child will get kids reading – and dreaming.
“My message is ultimately for kids to read, but also to entice the imagination,” Pratt said. “Kids like to act cool, but sometimes it’s the same kids who act too cool who come up to you and ask you questions. Maintaining that relationship with kids is what’s important for me.”
Pratt’s move to become a children’s author follows a series of twists and turns that brought him back to his dream of becoming a police officer. That dream took a back seat after he went to California State University, Bakersfield and was bit by the acting bug, a surprise for the introverted Pratt.
He earned a degree in performing arts and worked as a manager for a movie theatre in Bakersfield until he followed his passion for fitness and became a personal trainer. While he was a trainer, he met his wife and started a family.
There was always a part of him that wondered if these careers would go the distance, and if they were fulfilling for him in the long term.
“I always knew I wanted to help people, but I didn’t think about becoming a police officer again until I started commuting from Bakersfield to Porterville for work. The days were long, and I would drive on the freeway and suddenly there were these billboards that were popping up everywhere that said ‘Bakersfield PD is hiring’ or ‘Join the Bakersfield PD’,” Pratt said. “I saw them again the next day, at a completely different location and it just felt like a calling. It meant something to me to see the banners everywhere.”
At 37, Pratt applied to the Bakersfield Police Academy and got in. He went into the academy at age 38 but didn’t pass the shooting range test.
He decided to try again, and this time he applied to 16 police departments and was accepted to five, including another chance at the Bakersfield Police Academy.
“We could’ve made more money to go to other towns, but what it all came down to is who was going to have the academy first. I didn’t want to wait any longer, because I knew I wouldn’t want to go through it all again,” Pratt said. “Seems it was always meant to be Bakersfield PD.”
The second time around, Pratt made it all the way through, passing the shooting range, jumping the 6-foot walls and fences, running the miles the academy demanded – he did it all.
Today, Pratt is 45, the father of five kids ranging from 10 to 23 years old, and he is living the dream he had when he was four years old.
Since becoming a police officer seven years ago, he has obtained his master’s degree, is working on a doctorate, and published the children’s book that had always lived in his heart.
“The book is a story of friendship and encouragement, it’s the story of following your dreams and aspirations, which I’ve discovered really can come true,” he said.
For more information: Barnes & Noble