Michelle White doesn’t always like to talk about her accomplishments.
If you ask her about her role at the Pasadena Police Department, she ends up talking about a new program that helps at-risk youth.
If you ask her about her role as a foster parent, she’ll say it’s not a big a deal. She likes a big house full of happy kids, messy floors, and late nights eating ice cream.
And if you ask her what it was like to receive the honor of Pasadena Police Officer of the Year, a first for a non-sworn officer, White will just smile and say she does it for the kids.
“I’ve always enjoyed mentoring youth,” she said, “being helpful to those who feel out of place, strange … like they don’t fit in. They are the ones who need someone to talk to, someone to give them advice and someone to show them that things can change. If you try … life can work.”
White entered a career in law enforcement 17 years ago when she was in the middle of a divorce and needed a steady job with decent hours and good benefits for her and her kids — two from her marriage and four adopted.
At the time, she had been running a daycare at her home, a business she fell into as a way to help her neighbors with low-cost childcare. As it turned out, she loved spending her day with kids, teaching them and being someone they could lean on.
But when her own life changed, White went in search of a job that could provide consistency.
She had heard about a new position at the Pasadena Police Department, something called a “Park Safety Specialist.”
“I heard about this job and thought, ‘How hard can this be?’ I can do this, I’m at parks all the time with the kids,” White, 47, said. “I had no idea what I was getting into.”
As she stepped into her Pasadena PD uniform, White found a sense of community in the role. The position, which took her into patrolling Pasadena’s parks, gave her a level of authority, but she wasn’t technically a police officer. The duality of the role allowed her to build a trusting rapport with the locals in the neighborhood.
It has been a powerful combination that allows her to make a difference.
As Park Safety Specialist, White is a Pasadena Police Explorer Advisor. She also volunteers her time with city departments and builds bonds with the community and the police department. She works closely with the NAACP, local high schools, the Loveland Life Center, and is a big advocate for the PD’s Peer Support Program that helps staff and Pasadena police officers dealing with crisis, trauma or life changes.
White’s involvement helping the community as a law enforcement role model was one of the reasons her supervisor, Lt. Tracey Ibarra (now retired), nominated her for the Pasadena Police Foundation’s Myron Yanish Officer of the Year award.
At the time, a non-sworn officer had never received the award. But White’s background and Ibarra’s testimony helped change the rules.
“She touches lives with this heart that she has … and I wanted to highlight this,” Ibarra said. “The sworn officers get a lot of attention, but civilians like Michelle, they are making a difference. I thought she was due recognition of her efforts, sworn or not.”
Ibarra asked the board to reconsider its policy and in October 2018, White was recognized at the Police Chief’s Breakfast as Officer of the Year.
The recognition has been an honor for White, who is proud of what she’s accomplished in a career she never saw coming.
Since October, White has continued her outreach. She and her mom, Cathy Crawford, took a road trip to Paradise, California over the holidays to hand out warm jackets and blankets to fire evacuees who were living in shelters. She’s been working with the Explorers, the Boys & Girls Club, and is already ramping up to get kids involved in all of the summer programs offered at Pasadena parks.
“I’ve always been this way,” White said. “I am an advocate for youth. And it just fills my heart to help.”