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A day in the life: highlighting the diverse work of law enforcement across the Triangle

Posted October 26, 2020 5:00 a.m. EDT

Training dogs in the K9 unit, responding to mental health calls late at night, expecting the unexpected on daily patrols -- for those who work in law enforcement in the Triangle, every day is different. (Photo Courtesy of the Southern Pines Police Department)

This article was written for our sponsor, the Triangle Regional Recruitment Partnership.

Training dogs in the K9 unit, responding to mental health calls late at night, expecting the unexpected on daily patrols — for those who work in law enforcement in the Triangle, every day is different.

Take a look at a day in the life of this collection of law enforcement officials, from the ins and outs of a typical shift to the motivation that keeps them coming back day after day.

Chapel Hill Police Department

Cortney Fisher

With a background in mental health and Child Protective Services, Cortney Fisher has been a member of Chapel Hill's Police Department as a crisis counselor for just under a year.

In tandem with officers on duty, the crisis counselors respond to calls where a mental health expert could be beneficial. This structure has been in place in the Chapel Hill Police Department for years, offering a collaboration that benefits both officers and the community at-large.

What do your responsibilities look like on a typical day?

I have the unique opportunity of working a lot with officers on night duty, since I am the crisis counselor from 2 until 11 p.m.

When I come into work, my supervisor has already pulled the bulletin of things that have occurred that might need follow-up from us. Usually these are things that officers had responded to, and that we may be able to make contact with people afterwards to get them connected to resources that would benefit them.

I'll come into the day having some case assignments, and then I will touch base with my coworkers who work the earlier shifts and see how their day has gone, what they've responded out to in the field, and if there's any things still hanging that need to be followed up with or taken care of.

After that meeting with my team, around 6 p.m., the shift change happens for officers, and I meet with the entire night shift patrol and touch base with them on what they have on their plate for the evening. I also talk with them if I need assistance from them, with getting up with certain individuals, or just touch base with everybody and get game plans ready for the evening shift.

Right now, we have a team of three crisis counselors and our supervisor. Since I'm the only crisis counselor in the evening, officers will contact me directly, letting me know that the person they received a call from or for would really benefit from being able to talk with me. I'll be able to either go meet them out there or jump in a patrol car with one of the officers.

We all work together, and they have a really good sense of when to call me and when I might be able to help out with certain situations.

What motivates you in your work?

When somebody might be at their lowest point, it's nice to know that you're able to be that person that's going to listen and empathize and treat them with respect.

We're meeting people where they might have a various amount of things going on in their life, but right at that point in time, they've made the choice to reach out to 911 and ask for help.

There are times where we get out with the same people consistently, people we've met four, five, six times, and it's amazing to see when they finally are able to connect to that resource that makes that change for them.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your position?

Being able to co-respond with officers has been an amazing opportunity for me. It's such a unique job opportunity that I actually get to connect with people who are actively in crisis, and these vulnerable populations that you wouldn't get to see otherwise.

From my previous roles, a lot of my work was responding after a crisis had already occurred, so this has been such a unique way to not only benefit the community members, but also assist officers.

We have this great relationship where they can take care of the safety aspect, and I can feel safe on scene delivering these services immediately. It gets to those vulnerable populations that wouldn't be coming into a counselor.

There are people that don't have access to insurance or coming in contact with law enforcement because they have mental health or substance use or domestic violence, that officers are there for safety and we can get a minute to hopefully connect with these people and get them connected to resources when that opportunity could be lost at that very moment if we weren't able to do that together.

What advice would you give someone seeking a career like yours?

Coming from crisis counseling, I do think it takes a special person who can handle high-stress situations. It also takes someone who can also work well with law enforcement and understand where they're coming from; because part of our job is to support them and work within this culture that fosters working together and appreciating each other's strengths, and that we come from a background of really understanding and trying to help people at their worst moments. But also understanding the officers have that same drive and same outcome.

On top of that, you have to be able to handle a day that is never the same.

I could come in and do mostly follow-ups and be talking to people over the phone or answering our crisis line, and then there's a day where I will respond out with officers the entire night. And along those lines, you also have to be very comfortable with working with people from all walks of life.

Sometimes I'll walk through the woods to unsheltered camps where people will be camping, and other times I'm in somebody's house after they've maybe contemplated ending their life. You're always getting different things every single day.

Officer Madison Parker

With a degree in biology and forensics, Madison Parker started her career as a hospital responder with the Rape Crisis Center of Brunswick and New Hanover counties, acting as a support and liaison for the victim by connecting them with resources and guiding them through what the investigation process looks like.

After finishing her tenure there, Parker applied with the Chapel Hill Police Department, where she's been working night shifts for around three years.

What do your responsibilities look like on a typical day?

We work a lot together with crisis counselors and our roles, while they are different, play an integral part of having a solid relationship with one another.

We can provide safety so that when we respond out to the call with a crisis counselor. We also get input from the team so we already know what's on our plate for the day, along with the incoming call log that we already have coming on. That way we can, before we go out, we try and get together so that each other knows the expectations of what we're going into.

We try and gather information together, that way we can best provide both assistance, safety wise in the law enforcement standpoint, but also for that individual on what the resources we might need and what Cortney [Fisher] can help provide as a crisis counselor.

And then obviously, on top of that, I also am responding to calls for service in terms of 911 calls and following up on any cases that I might have patrol level and then that type of stuff. Connecting with the community.

What motivates you in your work?

My motivation really circles back to why I wanted to do it in the first place, which was to help people and be a part of the community. It's about treating people with respect, it's about treating people, no matter what position they're in, as a person.

When you have somebody acknowledge the fact that you are changing how they may see you because of the uniform you wear, it's a validating thing.

Even if we do wear a uniform, we're here to help. We're here to treat you as a person and with respect. I've offered people that are on the way to jail, you know, what type of music do you want to listen to? Because that's not a position that anyone wants to be in. I've connected with people before and offered them the same thing, and this person said, "I've never had a police officer offer something like that."

What's the most rewarding part of your job?

I'm in a job where I come in every day and it's different, and every day I'm making a different impact on the community.

Sometimes it can even be really small, like giving out a sticker to some kids I see in a neighborhood and letting them look at the patrol car, connecting with the community in that way so they're not just seeing us on a day where they really need us.

Sometimes it's even making an impact at a call, because I've taken the extra time and extra step to already connect with that person, so that they realize that I'm wearing this uniform, I'm wearing all this equipment, but I'm also a person. I can empathize with you and I can be there for you on possibly one of the worst days of your life.

What advice would you give someone seeking a career like yours?

I think the biggest thing that I would offer law enforcement nowadays is, you have to remember you are a person first. When you're responding to calls where somebody had their house broken into, any range of calls, you have to put yourself in that situation, empathize and be compassionate. You have to be community oriented and want to get out of your patrol car and connect with people. You don't want the first time that people see you or see your patrol car to be on a bad day. You want them to know you beforehand. That is the big thing: start connecting with people and start connecting them as a person so they see you as that.

Southern Pines Police Department

Sergeant Jason Embler

Jason Embler has been working for the Southern Pines Police Department for 17 years. He also is a certified general instructor and has taught Basic Law Enforcement Training at local community colleges.

In addition to being the sergeant for the Echo Team, he's also served as the K9 handler for 15 years, supervisor of the K9 unit for eight years, and a member of the Special Response Team for 15 years.

What does your typical day look like?

Echo Team is a directed patrol team that was started almost two years ago by Chief Robert Temme, and our focus is problems in the community, including narcotics, guns, gangs and other criminal activity. Typically we work from 3 p.m. to 3 a.m., four days on and four days off.

We have our own office in the police department where we meet at the start of shift. We discuss what problem areas we need to focus on for the day, receiving information from the community about their problems and forming a plan on how we can help solve it.

We patrol high crime areas, conduct traffic stops and investigate any reports of suspicious people, while also conducting surveillance on various areas. In order to keep up with the demands of the job, officers have to be physically fit, so we spend an hour each day of shift exercising as well.

Also during my day, I take care of my partner K9, Ivy. I start the day off by walking out to her kennel to get her ready for work, putting on her vest and collar, then she runs to the patrol vehicle, ready to go to work.

At the end of the night when I get home from shift, I remove her equipment, feed her dinner, put her in the kennel, and I go to bed myself.

What motivates you in your work?

My motivation is to try to rid the streets of drugs and guns every day I am at work, and hopefully by doing so, save innocent people from harm, whether through an overdose or gun violence.

What's the most rewarding part of your job?

For me, the most rewarding part of the job is working with the K9s and sharing their success stories. When I first started my career, I wanted to be the best officer in the department, county and state, but after I received my K9, I wanted my dog to be the best.

It's great to find narcotics, money, guns and criminals with the K9s, but the most rewarding part is running a track for a missing person. During my career, I've located multiple missing people, and anytime you can return a loved one back to their family, it's a great reward.

What advice would you give someone seeking a career similar to yours?

It's great to have a high school diploma, but if you want to go further in your career, you need a four-year degree. It's required by our department to have a four-year degree in criminal justice to be a captain, deputy chief or chief of police, and it can also help you earn a better salary.

Once you do get a job, never stop learning. Attend as much training as you can to assist you in your career.

Officer Jose Gomez

Relatively new to his position, Jose Gomez officially joined the Southern Pines Police Department after completing Basic Law Enforcement Training at Sandhills Community College and an intensive field training program with SPPD.

Now, his main duties include responding to incidents such as domestic disturbances, fights in progress and shots fired.

What does your typical day look like?

I work a 12-hour, four-days-on and four-days-off schedule, rotating from night shift to day shift. We start each shift by having roll call; and during roll call, they'll go over the events and arrests that occurred during our time off. After that, I'll go to my patrol car and check my camera, mic and all the equipment to make sure it's operable.

Once everything is set, then I go to my assigned patrol zone, looking for suspicious vehicles and suspicious persons who may be involved in criminal activity such as using or dealing narcotics.

I also may be patrolling areas that may need special attention due to a previous break-in or vandalism. I also respond to any calls for service that I am dispatched to, like animal complaints, alarms, motor vehicle accidents, disturbances, domestics, shots fired, larcenies, trespassing and so on, and for many cases, an incident report is made and possibly an arrest.

Then, if I'm not responding to calls for service or patrolling, I usually enforce traffic laws, pulling over vehicles for speeding, expired license tags, no brake lights, no headlights, things like that.

What motivates you in your work?

What keeps me motivated is knowing that each day I can help someone, even if it's just giving them a person to vent to during stressful times. That gives me hope, knowing that what I do can make a difference no matter how big or small.

Really, I enjoy every aspect of this career, and I try to give the people I meet a better perspective of police officers. For example, since I'm a Hispanic officer, the Hispanic individuals feel comfortable talking to me and are not afraid of speaking with me during casual interactions.

What's the most rewarding part of your job?

One of the most rewarding parts of the job is dealing with children. I sometimes sit at the local apartments working on paperwork and kids will come up to me, and they're very curious and ask questions about being a police officer.

I'll show them the inside of my patrol car and turn on the lights and sirens for them, or let them try on a police vest. The smiles on their faces are what makes this job so rewarding to me.

What advice would you give someone seeking a career similar to yours?

In this job you can go from sitting in your patrol car to jumping out and sprinting after someone, so training physically is important.

I'd also say it's important to be honest, have integrity and have compassion. They need to know it's important to be professional and try not to take things personally even though it may be difficult at times.

This article was written for our sponsor, the Triangle Regional Recruitment Partnership.

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