Tarvis Banks is one of the more recognizable figures of the Lincoln Police Department.
Banks, 38, particularly stands out due to his physique. He is 6-feet-4 and still looks like he could play his defensive end position from his college football days at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.
Outside of his hulking figure and the dark color of his skin, Banks has risen the ranks at LPD the last 16 years and made a name for himself with his many accomplishments.
As one of four Team Captains overseeing the Northwest Precinct, Banks is often out in the community interacting with youth at the Belmont Community Center and Salvation Army Rec Center or visiting with local neighborhood groups, organizations and businesses.
“I just want to be very present,” Banks said at the time he became Team Captain. “Instead of saying, ‘Yo, who’s the captain of the team?’ And they’re like, ‘I don’t know, I’ve never seen the guy.’ I want it to be, ‘Oh, yeah, it’s Captain Banks. I saw him last month,’ or ‘I saw him a couple weeks ago.'”
Banks is a long-serving member of the Department’s elite SWAT team and is regarded as one of the leaders of that group, which gets called out about 20 to 25 times a year, often in extenuating circumstances that test the mettle of the officers.
If it were up to Banks, he’d be a full-time SWAT member, but LPD is not that large, or specialized, so he relishes the opportunities he does get to train and fulfill that part-time role with the Department.
“You have to be good to get on and it takes most people several tries, but the expectation is once you are on that you are going to continually work to get better at all your skills for this position,” Banks said.
So how did the son of two long-time Lincoln Public School educators end up in law enforcement?
“I saw my parents teach, and didn’t want to teach,” Banks said jokingly. “They encouraged me to explore other paths.”
Through some family ties, Banks got to know then-Lincoln Police officers Chassidy Jackson and Mario Robinson, who are also black.
“I looked up to those two individuals and thought maybe law enforcement might be the thing for me,” Banks said. “They always seemed to love their job and what they were doing so I rolled into it as well.”
Banks had an additional connection with Robinson, who has been with LPD since 1994, as they both had attended Lincoln High, although quite a few years apart.
During his time at Lincoln High, Banks excelled in taking down heavyweight wrestling foes and running through opposing linemen as a noseguard and tackle on the football team.
“Football was my love,” said Banks, who was recruited by Augustana, UNO, Iowa State, Colorado State, and NU, which offered him a preferred walk-on spot.
In 2020, Banks was inducted in the Lincoln High School Athletic Hall of Fame.
“That was an awesome feeling,” Banks said. “Coming back to my alma mater to be recognized for my athletic endeavors was pretty cool. It was also great seeing old coaches who helped shape my life through athletics.”
While at Lincoln High, Banks said he got to know then-School Resource Officer Rich Hubka, who retired from LPD in 2006. Hubka became another example for Banks of someone who loved their job in law enforcement. Incidentally, Hubka’s son, Maxwell Hubka, is now Captain of Operations Management for LPD.
Upon graduation from high school, Banks was confident he wanted to major in Criminal Justice at the University of Nebraska-Omaha.
“I had always thought I would apply to the FBI,” Banks said. “I really like the investigative side of things. But life changes, and I eventually wanted to do something where I wouldn’t always be traveling and moving around.”
During his time at the University of Nebraska-Omaha from 2002-06, Banks was known on the football field for chasing opposing quarterbacks and running backs from his defensive end position.
He suffered a torn ACL during his sophomore season, but he was able to persevere and get back to 100 percent.
Banks received the team’s Outstanding Lineman award during his senior season in 2006, and he also was named Academic All-NCC in 2005, showing his mix of brains and brawn.
Banks went on to graduate Cum Laude from UNO with a degree in Criminal Justice and minors in history and sociology. He then started graduate school through UNO, which he would finish around his future career endeavors.
After a short stint as a fraud investigator for an insurance company in 2006, Banks fulfilled his goal of becoming a law enforcement officer as he was hired by his hometown Lincoln Police Department in 2007.
Banks said he had also applied with the Omaha Police Department, Overland Park Police Department, and Kansas City Police Department. But when the Lincoln Police Department offered him a spot in their academy, he jumped at the opportunity to return home.
“I was born and raised in Lincoln,” Banks said. “It was an easy choice to come back.”
At the time he joined LPD, he was one of about 11 black officers. Due to retirements and attrition that number is now down to three.
Banks said the color of skin doesn’t matter to him with co-workers and other members of the Department. However, outside of the walls of LPD, he knows it is important.
“Representation does matter within the community,” Banks said. “I have always been advocating for more African American officers on the Department. I would love to have the numbers boost back up. I think the City of Lincoln is about 4 percent African American and I would like to see the Department push more toward 4 percent.”
The Banks family has been used to being race pioneers since moving to Lincoln from Clarksdale, Mississippi in the late 1970s.
His mother, Carrie, at the time of her retirement in 2016, was part of the 1 percent of LPS teachers and administrators who were black.
His father, Willie Banks, at the time of his joint retirement in 2016, was one of just three black elementary teachers in all of LPS. He taught all 35 years at Clinton Elementary, which is a Title I public school that serves a multi racial and ethnic student population.
“It’s so important for kids to see themselves in the classroom … and in their teachers, and with someone who can relate to their cultural background,” Willie had said in an interview with the Lincoln Journal Star at the time of his retirement.
Tarvis Banks’ beliefs don’t fall far from his father’s, and he’s also tried to be a positive role model for younger African American youth.
“It’s nice to see people who look like you, that come from the same community as you, police your area of town,” Banks said.
Having attended McPhee Elementary just south of the State Capitol and Campbell Elementary near 24th and Superior streets, Banks feels like he is able to relate to most of the people he interacts with in his current jurisdiction.
“It’s familiar territory,” Banks said. “It’s nice to come back and police that territory I grew up in and still live in.”
He follows two other black Captains at the Northeast Station in Genelle Moore and Andrew Butler – both of whom have since retired from LPD.
Sgt. Robinson is one of the other two black officers still on the force and is currently in his 29th year. Robinson is someone that Banks said he still looks up to and considers a mentor. Major Armstead is the only other black officer currently on the Department, and he’s halfway through his second year.
When people of color or just in general are considering joining LPD or going into law enforcement, Banks hopes they can look to him as an example of someone who “loves what they do” and see themselves in a uniform someday also.
“You are never going to get the idea until you see it in front of your face,” Banks said. “If you have positive interactions with Officer A, B and C, you are going to be like ok, this is a cool job I could do.”
Banks still encourages interested individuals to do ride along, go to Citizen’s Academy or join Explorers so that “you can make an educated decision before you make a career of it.”
Banks said the pandemic and race riots around the United States gave him some time to reflect on his career path, but at the end of the day, he wanted to continue to be out there in the community every week interacting with residents and doing his part to make Lincoln a better place.
“I love it,” Banks said. “I plan to do it as long as I can.”