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Remembering Lt. Aaron Landers, MSW ’16

Megan Cambron, MSW '09

Crisis Outreach Coordinator

Lt. Aaron Landers with UIPD Crisis Team
Aaron Landers pictured first row middle; Megan Cambron pictured second row far right

The unexpected loss of UIPD Lieutenant Aaron Landers has had devastating effects on local community

Megan Cambron, University of Illinois Police Department Crisis Outreach Coordinator, reflects on her time spent with- and the impacts made by- fellow alum Lt. Aaron Landers before his unexpected death on August 23, 2021.

“Lt. Aaron Landers was a one in a million kind of guy.  People use that phrase a lot, but this time it’s not just hyperbole. Most people who met Aaron were struck by his character.  Nearly everyone who knew Aaron, even for a short time, have said similar things: he was concerned, he cared about people, was passionate about doing the right thing at the right time, funny and whip smart.  What made Aaron special was that he was all these things consistently. It wasn’t an act.  He was truly a man of great integrity. His life was one of service, both at work and in his community.  Aaron decided to further his education and found Social Work to be the perfect fit. He graduated in 2016 with his MSW.  A Social Work Police Officer isn’t exactly common, but Aaron saw the similarities between the two professions.  Both pledge to help individuals in need and have ability to be an agent of change and a beacon of light.  It was during his MSW Internship that Aaron and I met- I was his Field Instructor.  Because he was still working patrol at the time he had a challenging schedule, and we were having a hard time finding a spot for him to do his internship.  I worked in the residential unit at VA- it was staffed evenings and weekends, so I had the good fortune to be placed with him.  Aaron challenged my view on law enforcement, and what I thought I knew of the profession and the people.  I will be forever grateful for that.

Aaron was a US Air Force Gulf War Veteran and a police officer for 24 years.  These professions are challenging and dangerous and can tend to wear down an individual’s spirit.  But Aaron found a way to remain hopeful and found purpose in uplifting others.  Because he knew his fellow officers struggled with many issues related to their own mental health, he made wellness a priority. But he didn’t stop within the department, he worked with a larger group, Crisis Intervention Team, to train officers across the State of Illinois on what mental illness is, what it isn’t, how to collaboratively respond to someone experiencing a mental health crisis and how to access and advocate for our community members who are struggling to navigate the mental health system. Aaron played a pivotal role in preparing officers all over the state to respond to mental health crises professionally and competently.  Most recently, Aaron was an important part of UIPD’s therapy dog program. If you saw Aaron, you likely saw his therapy dog Winston.  Winston is a big, loveable, and goofy chocolate lab- a perfect fit for Aaron.

There are a few things that I will always remember about Aaron Landers.  One is the way he expressed his love for his friends. Aaron was never shy about telling others that he loved them.  Imagine for a second, a big, tough looking guy tell another big, tough looking guy, “Ok, buddy.  I’ll talk to you tomorrow.  I love you.”  It’s just not something we see a lot, and that’s too bad.  I’m grateful Aaron was so free with his words and affection because we get to keep that with us forever.  The other thing that I’ll always remember is something Aaron told me about his days in patrol.  He told me it was more often than not, that if he had to arrest someone, they ended up thanking him.  I didn’t believe it when he first told me, I mean why in the world would someone thank their arresting officer?  But he explained. He told me that many times people were thankful for the way he treated them. Most people understand when they’ve done something wrong and what the consequences are.  But we all just want to be treated with dignity and respect; like we have worth.  So, it makes sense that folks thanked Aaron.

Maybe Social Work Police Officers aren’t that common, but maybe they should be? Lt. Aaron Landers was an incredible model of how the two professions intersect.  And if we can’t all be Social Work Police Officers, perhaps we can find a way to support the work that we are both doing.”

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