Being a police officer has always been considered a noble profession. It takes a certain character to regularly confront danger and stressful situations. Officers can train and prepare for scenarios, but when the going gets tough, there’s nothing that can recreate the gravity of an assault or the sadness of a death.
It’s a position of leadership, but as these officers from around the Triad reminded us, the job can be physically, mentally and emotionally draining. Having to execute the right action in a highly visible field at all times is hard, especially when the people wearing the badge are just as flawed as any other person.
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For National Police Week, we talked to four Triad police officers about parts of the job most people don’t see. Today, we go beyond the badge with Greensboro Police Lieutenant Stephanie Mardis, a 15-year veteran.
Lt. Stephanie Mardis, Greensboro police
Q: What’s something that people don’t realize about police officers?
A: "Most police officers, believe it or not, they have a great sense of humor. We love to joke. We love to play pranks on each other. We’re just human beings. We have the same fears that everybody else has. We have the same fears that everybody else has, the same concerns."
"I’ve been a police officer for 15 years. I’ve seen the sentiment toward law enforcement change. There’s a perception that once you have the uniform on, you’re immune to any type of outside pressures or forces and you don’t have any feelings. That’s not the case."
"I also think nine times out of 10, a police officer would rather much go their whole shift without taking someone to jail. I think a lot of people think our main goal is to arrest people. I think there’s nothing further from the truth. We try our best to find different avenues to de-escalate situations to prevent people from going to jail. We have officers that volunteer their time on their days off. We have officers that spend their own money to help families in need on and off the job. We have officers that are musicians and cooks and dancers and singers, teachers, professors. Some have Ph.D. and Masters Degrees. We have full, colorful lives outside of law enforcement."
"The one message I think is very important for people to understand is we are not immune to everyday life, everyday pressures, everyday fears. We just really want to do what’s best for our communities."
"We are connected to families that love us, that want to see us come home every day. We really want to make a difference. We’re not in it to make a lot of money because we don’t. The majority of officers that are in law enforcement, they really believe in the greater good."
Q: Given the nature of the job, how do you deal with fear?
A: "We’re faced with a lot of dangerous situations everyday. In the moment that we’re in that situation, I’m really concerned about preserving life, mine and everyone else’s. You don’t really have time to get afraid. After the dust settles and you play back the events from each day, you think about getting hurt or being taken away from your family."
"I’m a mother and I have to deal with my son having to worry about me coming to work. Although he’s very proud of me, mortality is something that he has to deal with since he was about four years old. He really understands life and death. At an early age, I had to have conversations with my son because he’s afraid that I may not come home because of the job that I do."
Q: Any memorable stories from your career come to mind when looking back?
A: "I’m a mentor and been a mentor for about three years now. The police department has partnered with the African-American Male Initiative. It’s a commitment where you mentor a child from elementary school age until high school and graduating college. I have a son and I was conflicted about dividing my time and I just kind of went with my gut feeling and became a mentor."
"This young man is the exact same age as my son, exact same grade level and they have the exact same birthday. Little did I know did that this young man would come into our family’s life and save our lives. He’s just been an absolute joy to be around. He and my son are the best of friends. In my 15 years of being a police officer, I’m most proud of that accomplishment, making that commitment and sticking with it. He is my second son. He’s been a blessing to my life."
Q: How can the public and law enforcement develop a better relationship?
A: "I think we have to extend the olive branch and it has to be one encounter at a time. If you just take the time to introduce yourself to a police officer and just have a conversation with them and get to know them, I think that it would make a difference in the perception."