A police officer must be minister, social worker, diplomat, tough and gentle.
That’s how late radio host Paul Harvey summed up officers’ duties, and likely how most officers view themselves, Nashville Police Officer Paul Henderson said.
“I think our law enforcement is very good; but, you know, you’re in a lose-lose situation a lot of times. If you don’t do anything, you’re lazy. If you do too much, you’re being aggressive, you’re being mean, you’re picking on people,” Henderson said.
At a time when media coverage of and the public’s reaction to police officers has been less than favorable, the National Fraternal Order of Police partnered with COPS and law enforcement associations across America for a National Law Enforcement Appreciation Day on Jan. 9.
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Henderson, a father of three young children, began his career in 2011 at the Brown County Sheriff’s Department. He joined the Nashville Police Department in 2013.
He called Brown County a “great place to work.”
“We have our crime; we have problems; (but) we’ve got a pretty good community. We don’t have a lot of people spitting on us or throwing rocks at our cars,” he said.
But he has come across people who simply say they do not like him because he is a police officer.
He doesn’t go out in clothes that identify him as an officer when he’s with his family.
“There are people out there that don’t like you. It changes how you do a lot of things in life that people take for granted,” he said.
For instance, on vacation, when he’s asked what he does for a living, he sometimes thinks about not saying he is a police officer. Even shaking hands can be difficult because he doesn’t know if someone will try to pull him in to steal his gun.
“We can’t do a lot of those things people think are common courtesy,” he said.
The job also can be alienating, from family or from friends an officer has known for years. One friend who lives a “different lifestyle” from Henderson doesn’t talk to him since he became an officer, and sometimes even his family can get suspicious when he asks a question.
“It’s a lot more alienating than you expect,” he said. “You learn about your community, but you can’t share it.”
Brown County Sheriff’s Deputy Andrew Eggebrecht agreed. But he said communicating with other officers about issues you can’t discuss with the public helps.
“They understand better than anyone else could,” Eggebrecht said about his fellow officers.
Committing to community
Henderson grew up in Brown County and graduated from Brown County High School. He worked at Knight’s Manufacturing for 10 years before accepting a job at the Brown County Jail.
He graduated from the Indiana Law Enforcement Academy
Eggebrecht joined the Brown County Sheriff’s Department as a deputy last March. He graduated from Anderson University with bachelor’s degree in criminal justice in December 2013 and spent four months at the police academy.
He is originally from Michigan, where he spent three years as a reserve deputy. But during his time as a student at Anderson University, he went to Brown County to mountain bike and escape the city, he said.
At 22, he is the youngest officer in the county. But that is not a problem, he said, because he finds himself learning more from the experienced officers.
“It’s nice, because there’s a lot of experience I can draw from. Right now, we’re a fairly balanced department. We have a few guys that are near retirement and four or five of us that are just at the beginning. Several guys are on eight to 10 years, so it’s a pretty good spread in experience,”
Henderson said his job is generally rewarding because he gets to help people.
“Even arresting sometimes is the best thing you can do for a person,” he said. “You see people a lot of times at their worst, but then you see them later when they’re at their best.”
But he also has encountered people who will never change and continue to make bad decisions.
“Most people are really great people who will do the right thing. Then you have that small percentage of the population, for whatever reason, choose to go against society, against the system. They don’t see how their actions affect other people,”
Henderson spotted a vehicle that was going 12 mph over the posted 50 mph speed limit right outside Nashville on State Road 46 East. He turned around and followed the vehicle, then turned his lights on. The vehicle pulled off to the shoulder.
He walked up to the vehicle, spoke to the man briefly with a smile on his face and explained to him that he was speeding. He then returned to his police vehicle with a driver’s license
After entering the information into his laptop computer, no warrants or suspensions appeared, so he took the license back to the driver and gave him a warning. The man drove away.
As Henderson got back into his vehicle, he said the man was from out of town, which he could tell by the GPS located on his dashboard.
Sometimes people follow the speed limit on their GPS instead of what is posted on a sign, or they miss the sign with the decreasing speed limit on it and continue going at a faster speed without knowing they have broken the law, Henderson said.
He gave the out-of-towner the benefit of the doubt.
“They’re going 61 (mph), so they probably still think it’s (the speed limit) 55,” he said as he watched another vehicle drive by at a different location.
His rule is to pull someone over who is going 10 mph or more over the posted speed limit — or someone who is blatantly ignoring the speed limit.
Eggebrecht, too, prefers to give warnings if a person isn’t going too far over the speed limit since tickets are expensive.
As Henderson patrols Nashville, he constantly takes notes. That information comes in handy when dealing with drugs in Brown County.
“We’re seeing what people are doing,” he said. “Probably 90 percent of this job is information: Who this guy’s brother is, who his sister is, what car he drives.”
Officers want to get help for addicts. Drug dealers are the ones whom the officers want to face justice.
“It’s not that you want to catch this guy. Because he’s an addict, he needs help. What you really want to do is, you want to find out where he’s getting it,” he said. “Even if you have to go and arrest (the addict), sometimes that’s what that person needs. They’ve got to deal with the consequences of their actions (too).”
Good, bad and ugly
As with any profession, there are downsides to being an officer — among them uncertain schedules, 12-hour shifts and working in a county where there are 20 full-time sworn-in and paid officers in Brown County, not including the Cordry Sweetwater officers. Of those, one is the sheriff, and the others are the chief deputy, a detective and a lieutenant — leaving
16 officers to cover 330 square miles and protect a population
of approximately 15,000.
Indiana conservation officers also help, but there are only a couple in the county when there should be four, Henderson said.
Eggebrecht agreed that not having enough manpower has been a challenge for the department, especially if an officer or two take vacation times.
Ninety-five to 98 percent of the time, being an officer in Brown County is the best job in the world. “That other small percent, it’s not. It’s horrible. You experience horrible things,” Henderson said — like finding children in homes where there are methamphetamine labs.
Henderson could be sitting on the side of the road during the middle of the day monitoring traffic when a call comes in the radio requesting the attention of Brown County units. The call could mean a serious wreck with serious injury or a fatality.
Henderson doesn’t have time to think about the cause or the outcome of an accident, he has to speed off toward the accident to help those in need.
“They don’t realize at any second we could get a wreck that comes out on Clay Lick right now, and it’s a bad one; they’re trapped in the water. I gotta turn my sirens on and go and run real quick and try to get them out and get more help there. You could watch someone die, like that,” he said.
Henderson has never had to use his firearm — “for which I am very thankful,” he said. He has used pepper spray, a baton and a Taser. Talking it out is the tool he likes to use most.
“I kind of have the reputation of being too soft,” he said. “But the thing is, it’s really easy to escalate a situation, but it’s really hard to de-escalate the situation. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to come in and be real snippy with people and tell them exactly what they’re going to do.”
Plus, everyone knows everyone in a small town. If an officer approaches with a bad attitude, that person may not be willing to help next week when he’s investigating a crime against their cousin, he said.
An officer is always an officer. It’s not a job that’s easy to walk away from and shake off at the end of the day.
Eggebrecht is single with no children, so at the end of the day he plays with his yellow Labrador retriever, Reese, and that helps him relax at the end of a shift; but he is always on alert.
“Once you get out of the area it’s a little different,” Eggebrecht said. “Because we have personal use of our cars outside of work and we carry a firearm, while we’re in our vehicle we’re expected to help if we need to even if we’re not working.”
Henderson plans to spend the rest of his career as a police officer — preferably in a small town — even though it might mean missing out on dinner plans or one of his kids’ choir concerts.
“When you gotta go, you gotta go,” Henderson said. “Fortunately, I have a very understanding wife and family.”