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Remembering Rex

Letter to the Editor | Friday, March 9, 2007

Before I covered a slain police officer’s funeral, before I rode along in a squad car during overnight DUI patrol, before I was hung up on by more desk officers than I can count, I met Rex Rakow.

It was sophomore year, the sun-soaked Blue & Gold Game weekend of 2004, and Notre Dame Security/Police had just dropped a bombshell: The University was firing its security monitors. The monitors, who had been guarding and patrolling inside women’s residence halls ever since Notre Dame went co-ed in 1972, were being replaced with an outdoor-based force of community security officers. To would-be parietals-breakers, it was cause to celebrate. To the rectors and girls who counted on the monitors to feel safe in their dorms at night, it was deeply disturbing. So to NDSP, it was a very delicate predicament.

That’s why Rakow e-mailed me that Friday, remembering the Observer reporter who had spent January snooping around the dorms late at night and publishing monitors’ anonymous fears of losing their jobs. He had said then that no final decisions had been made. Now that a big one had, he wanted to explain.

We met outside Notre Dame Stadium, walked up to the box seats and sat in an unoccupied room near the president’s chair. As the Irish passed and tackled below – the crowd roars nearly drowned out Rakow when I played back my tape recorder later – the NDSP director didn’t watch the game. Instead, he looked me in the eye and told me about how the University had changed, how security monitors hadn’t, and how even though he thought they made the right choice, it stung to dismiss the dedicated women. “We’re hoping to have done this as compassionately as we can,” he said.

That conversation still resonates in my relationships with police. As I’ve moved forward in my reporting career, covering cops in South Bend, Chicago and New Jersey, I’ve run into plenty of journalists who believe police officers are paranoid, uncooperative, unnecessarily harsh. I’ve encountered police officers who believe journalists are insensitive, untrustworthy and way too suspicious. But while I realize reporters and cops have some interests that just don’t intersect, I also know that we have enough humanity in common to often bridge the divide.

I remember that when I call a police spokesman whose colleague has just been shot. I learned it from Rex Rakow.

I don’t know if he had that effect on other student reporters, of if he knew what that interview meant to me. I sure didn’t know then. But when I read today about his death, I immediately thought back to that afternoon, when he took the time to treat a young reporter like an equal.

As long as I’m talking to police, I won’t forget it. I hope Notre Dame won’t forget him.

The writer worked for The Observer from 2002-06 and was the 2005-06

editor in chief. She is currently a reporter with the Star-Ledger in New Jersey.

Claire Heininger


March 8