Puyallup Tribal Police officer Allan Gerking has lived his life with one simple goal in mind: to serve his community.
This goal manifested, in part, in the Gang Resistance Education and Training (G.R.E.A.T.) program that Gerking brought to Chief Leschi Schools more than a decade ago.
“One of the reasons that I’m really passionate about the kids is (because) I didn’t really have anyone to give me a direction growing up,” Gerking said. “To think if I can be a positive influence on these kids ... I’m pretty passionate about that and getting them moved in the right direction.”
One of the reasons that I'm really passionate about the kids is (because) I didn’t really have anyone to give me a direction growing up. To think if I can be a positive influence on these kids...I’m pretty passionate about that and getting them moved in the right direction.
Allan Gerking, police officer with the Puyallup Tribal Police Department
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Gerking, 53, grew up in Fife and went to Fife High School. He knew many members of the Puyallup Tribe growing up. At 36, Gerking decided he wanted to get involved in law enforcement.
“I came home one day and told my wife I needed to do something with the community,“ Gerking said. “I wanted to do something in the community that I was involved in.”
In 2002, Gerking joined the Puyallup Tribal Police Department team as a police dispatcher and corrections officer. He later went to train at an academy in New Mexico to become a police officer and graduated first in his class both academically and in physical fitness. When he returned, he began working on the Chief Leschi Schools campus.
At the time, there was extensive gang-related activity in the community and the schools, said Paul Herrera, a sergeant for the Puyallup Tribal Police who works alongside Gerking.
“You had to pick a side back in 2005,” Herrera said. “The gangs ran those streets and now it’s all but gone.”
You had to pick a side back in 2005. The gangs ran those streets and now it’s all but gone.
Paul Herrera, sergeant with the Puyallup Tribal Police Department
A large part of that is due to the intervention of the G.R.E.A.T. program, Herrera said, which was introduced to the community after Gerking went to Chicago in 2004 for specialized training in how to deal with gangs, where he learned about the program.
“They said, ‘We need to get something going at Chief Leschi for gang prevention,’” Gerking said. “I liked the G.R.E.A.T. program for the simple reason that it was backed federally, and it seemed like a program that was going to be around for a long time and would suit our needs.”
G.R.E.A.T. is an international program that aims to prevent gangs and violence by inserting law enforcement officer-instructed curricula in schools. The program received immense support from the Puyallup Tribe.
Gerking began teaching in fourth and sixth grade classrooms at Chief Leschi in 2005.
“It was a little rough at the beginning, and I told everyone it would take about five years to see what the outcome would be,” Gerking said. “You have some kids that are really open to it and some that are a little resistant, but you go up there and teach and do your best.”
It was a little rough at the beginning and I told everyone it would take about five years to see what the outcome would be,” Gerking said. “You have some kids that are really open to it and some that are a little resistant, but you go up there and teach and do your best.
The classes teach students about decision making, anger management and bullying prevention, among other topics.
“One of the goals is for kids to see an officer in a different light than they normally do,” Gerking said. “(The classes) not only teach kids all these different lessons, but to also see officers differently.”
After a few years of taking students on field trips, playing kickball with them and inviting guest speakers to class, Gerking started a summer camp for his students at a property in Graham.
“(The students) wanted to all go camping after being at the school for two years,” Gerking said. “We went up (to the property) and said, ‘This is it.’ That’s how we started the camp.”
That first year of camp, there were 22 campers. Last year, there were about 130 campers. The camp is now coming up on its 10th anniversary this summer. Seventh- through ninth-graders attend for three weeks, with fourth- through sixth-graders coming for one week. They have discussions, go canoeing and partake in other activities with tribal culture woven in.
130 students at last year’s summer camp
Gerking often gets to see his students grow up through the camp and come back as counselors.
“I’m in touch with a lot of them,” he said.
Herrera said the community has really improved over the years due to Gerking’s work and the summer camp program.
“It gives them alternative things to do in the summer when school’s not in,” he said.
Herrera, a 20-year U.S. Army veteran, is commander of the VFW Post 2224 in Puyallup. The post recognized Gerking as its 2016-2017 Police Officer of the Year.
“We’re looking for someone who does above and beyond. The things he’s been doing are outside the box,” Herrera said. “I intimately know what he’s done and the kids’ lives he’s changed.”
We’re looking for someone who does above and beyond. The things he’s been doing are outside the box. I intimately know what he’s done and the kids’ lives he’s changed.
In 2013, Gerking was one of six officers from around the country to visit the White House and sit next to former President Barack Obama to talk about community policing and the needs of police officers around the country.
Now, Gerking lives in Federal Way with his wife and has three children. He continues to serve his community and the kids in it with the G.R.E.A.T. program and its annual summer camp.
“The main goal is to improve the life of the kids who go,”Gerking said. “Maybe for some of them it’s just a safe place to be for three weeks ...The bottom line is that the kids are safe. They’re looking for something to belong to, and that’s what we give them.”