After many hours on a plane, Sam Houston State University Police Department Chief Kevin Morris anxiously steps off to breathe in the Polish air in Warsaw. He walks with honor to meet and greet the welcoming members of the Poland police force, for he knows he is fortunate to be one of only six public officials chosen to attend this prestigious conference and the first from Huntsville.
As he is handed his itinerary, Morris realizes this once-in-a-lifetime trip is going to be filled by the hour with the most interesting and eye-opening activities.
Morris was one of the few law enforcement officers selected to attend the Bill Blackwood Law Enforcement Management Institute of Texas on Sept. 9-19. This opportunity allows Texas law enforcement officers to travel to Poland and observe the strategies of the Polish police officers. The goal of the trip is to gain new insight and ideas as the Polish do when they travel to observe Texas law enforcement.
“We are actually doing a lot of the same things,” Morris said. “It’s always good to see that perspective and how they operate versus how we operate. We are always looking for different ways to stay ahead of trends and for opportunities to see how policing works in other parts of the world.”
To earn a spot on the trip, Morris had to apply through the Bill Blackwood website. Morris decided to apply after meeting some Polish police officers in years past.
“Every year when the Polish National Police come, we show them how we operate,” Morris said. “The university police entertain them, and I’ve even had them over to my house for dinner. I’d heard all the aspects of what they do in Poland, and that’s what really drove my interest to apply for the trip.”
The trip consisted of three stays in three different Polish cities including Kielce, Krakow and Warsaw. A Polish National Police officer translated for Morris and his fellow Texans, despite the fact that most Polish people can speak some English.
Morris’s delegation, or the group he went to Poland with, was made up of public officials with a variety of different job titles from all over Texas. The six public officials that make up the delegation stayed in the provided hotels in each city. The trip was completely paid for, excluding airfare.
“I really enjoyed the trip,” Morris said. “It was a really good learning experience. It makes you appreciate what you have when you come back home.”
The first city the delegation stayed at was Kielce. In Kielce, the delegation toured a prison and visited the main police headquarters. They also were able to view Kielce’s police vehicles and see how the officers respond to certain situations.
On Sept. 11, the delegation attended a ceremony in commemoration of 9/11. Kielce is the only city in Poland with a 9/11 memorial.
“They had all of the firefighters, police and paramedics come out to the ceremony,” Morris said. “It was a really nice ceremony, and our delegation also got to participate in it by laying a wreath.”
The second city the delegation stayed at was Krakow. In Krakow, the delegation went and saw different police headquarters and the district levels. The delegation was able to observe the efforts of the community police in Krakow as well as gain insight of their politics.
“With everything going on in Ukraine right now, being able to talk to them and learn about their politics was very interesting,” Morris said. “I really enjoyed Krakow. I liked the history and everything that is going on there.”
The third city the delegation stayed at was the same in which they arrived and from which they left: Warsaw. In Warsaw, the delegation spent their last three days at the police training centers where Polish police train the new police members.
“Warsaw was very nice,” Chief Morris said. “We got to see a lot of their different facilities, and the food was really good.”
Differences Morris found between the U.S. style of policing and Polish style of policing include that while the U.S. divides prisoners by gender, Poland does not. In addition, Poland also allows prisoners to decorate their cells.
“Poland has a big problem with ‘hooligans,’ which are basically aggressive soccer fans,” Morris said. “[Polish police officers] have specialized equipment to break up disputes. Also, with Poland being newly democratic, it was interesting to see how closely Poland police watch democratic ideals to respond without violating someone’s rights.”
While in Poland, the delegation was able to see and visit several churches and a monastery where they were able to eat dinner with the bishop of the Catholic Church and discuss with him the different things that impact Poland and religion.
“Poland is predominately Catholic,” Morris said. “The churches were old and decorated extravagantly. It was very interesting to see history of Poland, because it goes back so far.”
The delegation also explored a salt mine, viewed an old town wall and visited a castle built in the fourteenth century. The delegation was provided tours to see artwork and were able to examine the different historical and modern weapons used in Poland.
“It was very interesting to see that type of history,” Morris said. “You grow up learning about this stuff in history classes, but to actual see it is a moving experience.”
Morris and his delegation also toured concentration camps in Poland from World War II. The tour guide explained to them the different methods for torturing and killing the prisoners in the camps.
“The tour was silent except for the guide,” Morris said. “It was just an amazing experience to see not only the size of the camp but also the sobering place where 3.5 million people died. It’s really kind of heartbreaking to see what the Nazis did.”
Morris has been the UPD chief since 2008. He was a student at SHSU who became a student assistant writing parking tickets. Eventually, Morris worked his way up to his current position.
“My advice to criminal justice majors would be to take all the writing enhancing courses possible,” Morris said. “That’s all we do is write. Being able to write everything we do down with details in chronological order is key. They don’t show that in the movies; it’s all about getting the bad guys. Also, being able to talk to people face-to-face is important.”
Morris recently returned from his trip to Poland with a vast and cultured education of policing.
“The trip was better than I expected,” he said. “I’d never been to a European country, so I was a little nervous about how things would work out, but they kept us so busy that time flew by. I would definitely do it again.”