He is an African American police officer, and he played football in Kirk Ferentz’s University of Iowa program.
That makes Dace Richardson, at least indirectly, connected to the biggest ongoing news story in the country, and also a huge news/sports story in Iowa. Richardson is a police officer in Waukee, Iowa’s fastest-growing large city. He was a Hawkeye offensive lineman from 2005 to 2009, and was a first-team All-Big Ten player as a senior.
Today, he’s trying to be a self-described “good cop,” and a good former teammate. Both involve listening and being supportive.
“I try to work with kids, hanging out and talking to them,” Richardson said. “If I see kids going down the wrong path, I try to sit down with them and not to be a cop, but just be a person and talk to them, see where they’re coming from, and tell them where I’m coming from.
“Part of my job is to talk to people and tell them there’s no reason to be afraid of us. We’re just trying to help out as best we can. We don’t want to cause any undue distress.”
Waukee has about 25,000 people, roughly twice its population from when Richardson was on the 2009 Hawkeyes team that reached the Orange Bowl. He is the lone African American police officer in the city and has been on the job for two years. He is well-known in Waukee.
“I stand out because I’m 6-foot-5, a big person, and I’m also black,” Richardson said. “In the black community people know who I am. We’ll have calls when they need us where they ask where I’m at because they feel a lot more comfortable with me. I’m guessing it’s because I’m black and they feel I’m going to listen to them more than someone else, but I tell them the colleagues I work with listen to everyone.”
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The national narrative is police having unchecked power that has been used to abuse African Americans. We’ve seen and felt the firestorm set off by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis from the knee of a police officer.
Waukee, 15 miles west of Des Moines, isn’t in some bubble. But Richardson insists he’s part of a police force that attempts to be part of the solution, not the problem.
“We need change,” he said. “People are getting killed for no reason. People want change and us officers want change, too. The situation in Minnesota makes us all sick. I know everyone thinks all these cops are just like that, and we’re not. All these good cops are looking at those bad cops and we’re hurt and angry, too. What they did is putting a dark light on all of us.
“We want to help people, especially in my department. We get a lot of training. We were never trained to put our knees on someone’s neck.”
Growing up in Wheaton, Ill. — which he speaks of highly — Richardson said he was stopped by police as a child for no cause. “I knew right then and there,” he said, “that I wanted that to be different, where a person of my color would never be stopped randomly for no reason.”
He had an NFL tryout after college, then went to North Carolina to pursue becoming a commercial pilot. But he returned to Iowa to play for the Iowa Barnstormers of the Arena Football League for two years, and met his future wife there in Des Moines. After football, he was a day trader in Des Moines for five years.
“I didn’t feel comfortable sitting at a computer all day and not interacting with people,” Richardson said. “Ever since I’ve been an officer I’ve enjoyed coming to work every day. Every day’s different. I help people in times of need or I’m just a friend with someone having a tough situation.
“When I was working second shift, sometimes if I’d see kids shooting hoops I’d be out there with them just so they could get to know an officer of the law. If other officers weren’t busy, I would bring them along, too, and the kids would be more comfortable with us and feel whatever happens, they can count on us to help them out.”
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Recently, several of Richardson’s former Hawkeye teammates — particularly African Americans — have publicly addressed what they felt was verbal abuse or general discomfort during their time in the Iowa football program.
“I never experienced some of the things my teammates did,” said Richardson. “Yes, I had some situations that weren’t great at Iowa. It never happened to be racially motivated or anything like that.
“I always had a good relationship with Coach (Kirk) Ferentz and I had a pretty decent relationship with Coach (Chris) Doyle.
“Hearing stories from my former teammates — and I reached out to a couple personally — it’s really tough to hear they went through those things and didn’t feel comfortable coming out to other players or talking about them with the coaches at the time. It’s just really disheartening to know maybe I had a blind eye to some certain situations that took place at the University of Iowa.
“I never had any situation of being judged by my skin color. But listening to stories of what the former players are saying, I believe all my brothers and what they’re saying. A lot of stories I’m hearing are similar and it’s just really disheartening that something like that could happen at the University of Iowa, especially under our head coach’s watch.”
A part of the solution to the Hawkeyes’ problem could be how Richardson describes his approach to the citizens of Waukee.
“I try as best I can to find out the problems or issues they’re having,” he said, “so they can keep their trust in me.”
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