Rodgerick Wiggins took an unlikely path to joining the Biloxi Police Department , but as he has repeatedly shown throughout his life, what are obstacles except opportunities to prove others wrong?
From being born with rickets to being pinned in what could have been a debilitating car crash 17 years later, the 31-year-old Biloxi native has always found a way to overcome — all while keeping his hip hop roots intact.
In addition to being named Biloxi’s 2017 Officer of the Year following his rookie year on the force, Wiggins is a choreographer for Mardi Gras balls and teaches hip hop dance classes for kids and adults on the side.
Service and dancing
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Wiggins said he gets his rhythm from his mom, who was a dance instructor.
“When I was born, I grew up basically in the dance studio. I started dancing as soon as I could walk,” he said. “My mom said a song would come on and I’d dance, even before I was old enough to walk.”
After graduating from Mercy Cross in 2005, Wiggins transitioned from dancer to choreographer and instructor. In addition to teaching at Kelli’s Steps School of Dance — where he danced growing up — Wiggins also choreographs two La Belle Femme groups and a Southernettes group.
“I feel like I can put what you’re hearing into a visual when it comes to dance,” he said. “It’s more than just what you’re listening to. I can make it visual.”
When he’s teaching dance, Wiggins said he uses it as more than just an opportunity to show women and kids a new move.
“They get to know me as a person, not just this guy who comes in every now and then in a uniform, or some guy they might see working a traffic accident,” he said. “They get to know me as a person to see who I really am, inside and outside the uniform.”
With kids, Wiggins said, there’s an additional chance to make a connection.
“It’s a way to make sure kids know we’re not bad people like the news makes us out to be nationally,” he said. “We’re out doing the same things as everyone else, helping kids, coaching sports, teaching dance and volunteering our time.”
Hardships as a kid
Wiggins said he always knew a career in law enforcement would be part of his future.
“Ever since I was a little kid, I wanted to be a police officer,” he said. “There was something about being a police officer. I wanted to be that person who people come to with a problem, who people look forward to seeing — hey, the police are here it’s going to be OK.”
It didn’t always look like Wiggins would get that chance growing up. Born with rickets, which often leads to bowed legs and stunted growth, Wiggins was a regular at Shriners Hospital in Shreveport, Louisiana, until he was 18. As if that wasn’t enough, Wiggins was involved in a serious car crash when he was 17.
Leaning against the trunk of a car outside his family’s home while his younger sister’s birthday was celebrated inside, a car came tearing around his cul-de-sac and pinned him.
“There were trees, so you couldn’t see the car. It came around the corner and I was standing there,” Wiggins said. “There was nowhere to go.”
His dad raced out of the house and rushed Wiggins to the hospital, but due to complications in repairing his broken right leg, he lost three inches, which resulted in a permanent limp.
He was confined to a wheelchair for six months and doctors told him he wouldn’t be able to walk past the age of 21. But Wiggins proved it unwise to bet against him thanks to strenuous rehabilitation and his unwavering determination.
Road to joining the BPD
Wiggins attended Southern Miss for three months before returning to the Coast to join the workforce. After working as a plumber and in the towing business, he got a security job at Stennis. The role paved the way for him to eventually join BPD, even if he didn’t know it at the time. After working at NASA for seven years, Wiggins decided the time was right to pursue his childhood dream and apply to join the Biloxi Police Department.
Wiggins said he and his wife, Sheena, had a serious of serious conversations before he began the process of joining the force.
“I told her I didn’t want her to make a quick decision because that’s what I wanted to do, but I wanted her to think about it because I’m going to go out there and essentially at any given moment I’m working someone could shoot me or hit me with a car,” he recalled saying. “Something could happen and it could be drastic, but this is what I want to do.
“I’m smart enough to be safe, but at any time, anything can happen.”
Wiggins was ultimately accepted and sent to the academy for training — before he was hit hard once again.
Three days into the academy, Wiggins tore his ACL and meniscus and suffered light cartilage damage in his right leg.
Instead of taking it as a possible sign from the universe, Wiggins proceeded with rehab.
“It was horrible,” he said of the injury, “(but) I also knew I’m tougher than this.”
Surgery stunted his training a bit, but Wiggins was undeterred and graduated from the academy in the fall of 2016. By May 2017 he was in a patrol car by himself, cruising the city he grew up in.
“I just went out with the attitude that I’m going to come in and learn everything I can from the guys on the shift and do what I can and just hold my own,” he said.
In early March, Wiggins, who is now a patrolman second class and works the night shift, was named Biloxi’s Officer of the Year after just one year on the force.
“It was surreal but at the same time it kind of showed me,” he said. “Everyone in the department has helped me day-in and day-out. I ask questions and they’re always available. They never turn you down when you need something.
“It’s just a testament to the people I work with, honestly, for the help they have given me.”
Keeping work and home separate
As if being a police officer and teaching dance wasn’t enough on his plate, Wiggins and his wife also have three children under 2 — a 17-month-old son, Rodgerick Jr., and 7-month old twins, Ryelan and Raylan.
It would be easy to let his professional life follow him home. But as a young officer, Wiggins has made a conscious effort to keep the two worlds separate as best he can.
“When I leave home and get in the patrol car, it’s strictly work. I leave family out. Of course, you make time to call and check in, but I make work and family totally separate,” he said. “That way, when I come home from work I can cut work off at the car, come inside and have family time.
“There are times you witness deaths, abuse, drugs and things you don’t want to wear on you when you come inside your house with your children and your wife.”