SWANSEA, Ill. – A St. Louis area police chief is reflecting on why he is in law enforcement before attending Illinois State Troper Nicholas Hopkins funeral. Swansea Police Chief Steve Johnson writes that he put on a badge, “Because I want to help people.”
Johnson shared this essay to the Swansea Police Department’s Facebook page late Saturday night:
The night before a PEACE Officer’s funeral.
I am writing this the night before Illinois State Police Trooper Nick Hopkins’ funeral. We were not on the same department. We are not related. We did work together on some call outs. We were friendly to each other. But, because of this profession we are all brothers and sisters.
Tonight, my dress uniform is fresh from the cleaners. I am spending time polishing my badge, brass buttons, clarino belt, and ensuring my leather is clean and not worn. I am shining my clarino shoes with a toothbrush, polish towel and some cleaner. I ensure my cap is clean and the badge is also polished. I straighten the mourning band over my badge and attach it to my dress coat. I think about all the times I have had to find that small piece of black elastic and rustle it over my badge. Each time I have done this over the last thirty years I hope it will be the last time. But, I know it will not be in this profession. Every time I put it on I stop and think about it. For some reason every time I do this my wife just happens to walk into the room and see me staring at it. We don’t say any words, but I know she knows. I know what it does to her.
Because of the heat of the day, I contemplate not wearing my ballistic vest. It is painfully hot wearing a dress uniform and uncomfortable for that length of time. I know I won’t respond to calls for service or be thrown into a violent situation at a moment’s notice during a funeral or memorial service. But I do wear it. Every time. I know I may be a target just because of the uniform. I know the profession. I also know younger officers will be looking to see if I have it on. We also have a policy. The policy is about ensuring we come home every day or night after our shift. I think about that all the time. I think about even though we have that policy, and even if a peace officer does everything right, he or she may still not come home at the end of their shift. It is the profession.
It is the only profession where every person, before they were an officer, was asked a simple question and every person answered the same way: “Why do you want to wear this badge?” In every peace officer’s personnel file every single officer answered the same way, “Because I want to help people.” Peace Officer. To Protect and Serve. I continue polishing my badge and leather.
I finish my uniform and hang it up for the night. I know in the morning there will be a sad silence in my house as I dress for my brother’s eternal rest. The solemn nature of the day will sweep over all of our thoughts. All of my families’ thoughts will be of Trooper Nick Hopkins’ family. I know the hug my wife and kids give me before I leave will be extra long. I also know my wife is ensuring I have my ballistic vest on, without saying it.
The day after the funeral I will wear a different uniform just like the other 18,000 law enforcement agencies in our great nation. Every one of us will come to work and answer the same question over and over again: “Because I want to help people.” It is what we do.
God bless Trooper Nick Hopkins, his wife, his children and his entire family.
Chief Steve Johnson
Swansea Police Department