Service is everything to Keith Cross; he has spent almost all of his adult life serving the city he grew up in. Over the years, Cross has seen much change in Aurora and across the region, and as a long-time police officer in the city, he has been part of and led much of that change. For his many contributions to the community as a law enforcement officer and as a community leader, Waubonsee Community College is proud to honor him as a Student Success: Featured Alumnus.
Cross graduated from East Aurora High School in 1987 and went to college at Western Illinois University. During his first year at Western, Cross realized that he wanted to be closer to home. So he decided to go to Waubonsee Community College for his second year of college. At Waubonsee he got much more than the opportunity to be close to home.
“I had the opportunity there to mature as a human being and to evolve,” said Cross.
That time of maturation prepared him to leave the area again after graduating from Waubonsee in 1989. This time, he went to Bemidji State University in Minnesota and graduated with a Bachelor of Science in political science in 1992.
In addition to the degree he earned, Cross also developed a key intangible attribute at Waubonsee that would carry him throughout the rest of his life: leadership.
As a student-athlete, Cross learned the value of leadership and the importance of teamwork on the basketball court.
“Coach Heiss made my time there a great experience,” Cross said of his basketball mentor.
Cross has transferred that experience and those life skills into his professional life and to the lives of people in the community.
Cross joined the Aurora Police Department in April 1994 after serving in various law enforcement roles in Carol Stream, Ill. and in Milwaukee, Wis., where he met the woman who would eventually become his wife. He was promoted to sergeant in Aurora in 2005, to lieutenant in 2008, and to commander in 2016. In those years he served on patrols, in community policing and special operations, as a field training supervisor and school resource officer and as a D.A.R.E instructor. He currently leads the department’s Honor Guard, Crisis Intervention Team and Hostage Negotiation Team. In June 2017 he completed the FBI National Academy, a 10-week leadership course with 227 people from more than 25 countries.
In addition to these leadership positions, Cross is the president of the Northern Illinois Chapter of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives. In this role, he works to bridge the gap between law enforcement and the community.
“We work to recruit African-Americans to become police officers, meet with churches and community groups to discuss the role of the police and clear misconceptions, and help people understand why we do the things we do,” said Cross of the organization’s work in the community.
Cross’ work in building partnerships is not limited to his role as a police officer. He uses the lessons of teamwork to improve lives when not wearing the uniform by co-leading the West Aurora Boys Basketball Feeder Program.
“We work with kids in middle school using basketball as a vehicle to teach life lessons and skills. We take them to tournaments at colleges to get them thinking and excited about school,” said Cross.
Cross credits his time at Waubonsee for setting the foundation for much of what came after Waubonsee for him.
“Waubonsee is a great place – a wonderful place to go to school,” Cross said.
Personal development, teamwork and leadership have always been hallmarks of Cross’ life. He learned about them at Waubonsee, and he continues to use his own experience with them to improve the lives of those he comes in contact with.
His message to all young people is simple and grounded in personal experience: make good decisions.
“I see the results of poor decisions every day. Be a good decision maker and life will work out pretty well for you. Just think about tomorrow.”