Lt. Kris Sell’s 20-year career with the Juneau Police Department officially comes to an end on Friday, Sept. 1 at Savikko Park near Sandy Beach.
She will help lead an event celebrating Juneau’s ongoing Year of Kindness, an initiative that was her brainchild and that she says has profoundly changed her life. Her plan is to then retire, but working as a police volunteer, she will continue advocating for kindness in Juneau until the initiative’s closing ceremony at year’s end.
Sell has been pleased and amazed at the reaction generated by the Year of Kindness. Friday’s event from 3-7 p.m. will be a chance for participants to share what the initiative has meant personally and to recommit themselves to its intent.
An international organization called Random Acts, which promotes kindness activities throughout the world, will be represented at Friday night’s event and hopes to document people’s take on The Year of Kindness. There will be activities including testimonials, a bonfire and marshmallow roasting. But for Sell, the night will be especially meaningful, marking what she calls “her last act as a police lieutenant before retirement.”
I met with Sell at Juneau’s police headquarters late last week and quickly realized during our half-hour conversation how much The Year of Kindness has meant to her. She has been genuinely moved by community response to The Year of Kindness and regularly posts “Kindness Alerts” on the JPD website.
TK: Please tell me how you landed on the idea of a Year of Kindness in Juneau.
KS: One Sunday I had gone for a walk, it was September of 2016 and I had been hearing a lot of talk about how negative our environment had become. There was a lot going on, random terrorist attacks here and overseas, prejudice and discrimination seemed to be increasing. I heard a lot of frustration from people I had been talking to. ‘This seems so big, so overwhelming, these things that are going on. I thought, what can I do? I don’t like it, I don’t want this to be my environment, but it can seem like you’re trying to move the ocean with a teaspoon.
TK: So you were specifically thinking about this at the local level?
KS: Yes, as I walked and thought, it seemed to me there certainly should be something we could do to change our environment. I came across the idea of exercising kindness, that it’s something we can all do every day…While one person engaging in daily acts of kindness might not make a visible difference, if a whole town were doing it, you could actually change what it feels like to live in that community.
TK: How hard was it to get this idea off the ground and have it take on a life of its own?
KS: It wasn’t hard at all. Probably the most difficult part was going to my boss at the time, Chief Bryce Johnson, and saying I would like the police department to spearhead a kindness initiative.
TK: Not something police departments typically do.
KS: You can imagine the way he looked at me initially. (smiling) He said, “Lt. you want a what?” But I persuaded him that it wasn’t going to cost any money, that we could partner with the community and that this was a serious attempt to improve quality of life. So he got on board with it, underlining it can’t cost any money. … We formed a steering committee and the momentum took off like nothing I could have anticipated. I expected there to be a slow rollout, but it was like piranhas going after dinner, people were so hungry for something positive to do.
TK: When looking back on what has happened so far with the Year of Kindness, what have been some of the highlights for you?
KS: Highlights would include the woman who contacted me to say she had dropped her groceries at the IGA downtown. She had a walker and she told me that three people rushed over to her to help. She had called to say that she thought Year of Kindness was making a difference. … One day I was walking out of court in uniform and someone yells out of their car at me, “The Year of Kindness rocks.” I don’t know who it was, but that’s the kind of thing that’s not usually shouted at police officers in front of a courthouse and I think that’s a positive development. … During the Fourth of July parade, lots of people said positive things. It did reach an uncomfortable level in some ways when my husband and I were out having dinner and someone picked up our check and wrote us a note about it mentioning the Year of Kindness. My husband said it was awesome, but I said no, (laughing) that’s really not where we want to go with this.
TK: Twenty years is a huge investment in police work and Juneau. When you think about what your legacy will be once you’re gone, where does the Year of Kindness fit in your story?
KS: The Year of kindness is the culmination of everything I’ve learned about policing and community. It is my legacy, the most important thing that I’ve ever done. I could have been in the position of just packing up all of my stuff and going back to the farm in Montana where I grew up, but instead, I’ve had this absolutely life-changing experience in my last year.
• Thomas Kellar is a freelance writer living in Juneau.