Over the holiday season, Officer Kayode Sodimu received a note from a stranger bidding him “the richest blessings.”
“Hey Sodimu,” wrote another man he’d never met, “Merry Christmas to you and your family.”
In total, he received roughly 100 e-mails over the holidays thanking him for his work in the unpaid job he’s taken on in addition to being a District patrol cop. Sodimu is D.C.’s self-styled Mr. Safety, a writer and dispenser of comprehensive, highly researched safety tip sheets he estimates are circulated to some 30,000 people, mostly through Listservs in the D.C. area and beyond. Readers from all over the country—Philadelphia, New York, California—and even Canada have contacted him, he says.
These days, his lists appear roughly twice a month. They are often themed, like his “Robbery and Burglary Prevention Safety Tips for Business” lists. Or they center around tips for a certain time of year, like his recent “After You’ve Opened the Gifts” sheet, which advises people to refrain from placing boxes for expensive items on the curb until trash day, lest would-be thieves get a whiff of the goods inside. The longest lists take up to 10 hours to research and compile.
Sodimu, who immigrated from Nigeria in 1980, has reinvented himself on various whims. He’s a car salesman turned autoshop manager who decided to be-come a prison guard after some customers told him he’d be good at the job. He took a pay cut in 1995 and went to work for one of the maximum security prisons in Jessup, Md.
Back then, Sodimu was a big guy: At 6-foot-2, his weight hovered above 400 pounds, he says. He had to sleep sitting up because the fat tissue around his neck could suffocate him if he lay down. His doctor impressed upon him the seriousness of his condition and one day, enough was enough. His next move was dropping more than 200 pounds.
In 2000, following a conversation with a young inmate, he suddenly felt compelled to work on the street, rather than with convicts, and decided to become a cop.
Sodimu started writing his lists in 2002, about a year after he joined the D.C. police. He got the idea from a list posted at a Silver Spring precinct. His first lists were circulated to groups in Shepherd Park and Takoma Park, which are in his patrol area. Roughly a year ago, he began posting on all the police district Listservs. At the same time, he also started sending his tips to motorcycle group Listservs—Sodimu rides a Suzuki Hayabusa—from all over the country. There are a lot of law enforcement officers on the bike lists, he says. Many said they wanted to disseminate his lists to their communities.
The lists themselves range in tone from straightforward and rational to sometimes comically strict. His Halloween tip sheet condemned all witch hats, sombreros, and cowboy hats with this warning: “Don’t wear floppy hats or wigs that slide over the eyes. Also, children should not wear long, baggy, or loose costumes or oversized shoes.”
His Thanksgiving list offered some cheerful preaching: “Don’t think of driving as a chore. Consider traveling to be part of the vacation,” he wrote, and later suggested “playing favorite holiday music or chatting with passengers as if sitting on the couch back at home.”
Sodimu has caught some flak about a repeated blunder: actual preaching or, at the least, mentioning God in his e-mails. Last January, he circulated a list, apparently sent to him by another officer, titled “God’s 7 Commandments for 2007.” It was a garden variety set of guidelines for good behavior, with some biblical references thrown in. But it set off some readers.
“Regardless if I do—or do not—share your beliefs, I truly do not want to read, nor am I comfortable with references to god,” responded one Listserv poster.
This past November, Sodimu made the same mistake by introducing his Thanksgiving list with a God-laden paragraph about “rejoicing” and “singing of our blessings.”
Sodimu acknowledges the misstep but says his religion is an important part of his life, especially since becoming a cop. He belongs to a Pentecostal church near his home in Clinton, Md. During patrol shifts, he occasionally ducks into churches on 16th Street NW to pray.
“You need God in your life,” he says. “You need to believe in something.” Then he adds: “I’m not a wacko Christian. I’m not going to push people.”
Besides religion, Sodimu’s life also revolves around his family. About halfway through an interview at the IHOP off Route 5 near his home, Sodimu’s wife, Oluremi, daughter, Ope, 7, and sons, Isaac, 4, and King David, 3, show up to visit.
King David—that’s the name on his birth certificate, says Sodimu—slides into the booth and starts picking with his fingers at a short stack of pancakes. The other two children hover close by.
After they leave, Sodimu gets a text from his wife: The kids are crying because they want to be with him.
All of his children have mini police uniforms, he says. At home, he and his kids occasionally dress up in their uniforms and have dance parties in their garage.
But a lot of Sodimu’s free time is spent on the computer, checking his e-mail. With his name traveling to so many District Listservs, he often receives requests for other sorts of help. People want him to remove abandoned vehicles or they have questions about various laws and regulations. If he can find out the answers to their problems, he doesn’t mind doing the research; he considers it part of his unofficial job.
As a cop, he says, “If you want to make extra money, you can go work the baseball game.…I’m content with what I have.”
At the IHOP, he arrived with a few items tucked under his arm: e-mail printouts of thank-you notes, a watermarked letter from 2004 announcing his nomination for a D.C. government award, and some photos from his police academy graduation.
He’s clearly pleased his lists are reaching untold people, but Sodimu can’t possibly estimate the size of his readership.
Shepherd Park resident Linda Wharton-Boyd noticed the lists over the summer. A few months later, she began forwarding them to friends and family in Atlanta, Los Angeles, Baltimore,
Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, New York, Boston, Virginia, and Maryland, as well as to her sorority network Listserv and two alumni Listservs from her alma mater, University of Pittsburgh—thousands of contacts, collectively just from one source.
“People are very excited about it,” she says. One person told her: “I need to get my police officer to do something like this.”
Wharton-Boyd has never met Sodimu, nor has she ever mentioned that she forwards his lists. When he heard the news, he says “that really just made my day.”
“Thank you for me goes a long way.”