Growing up a police officer’s son

Neil Mitchell
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Even though my father and I weren’t very close, I was always intrigued by his work. My father was a police officer with the Anne Arundel County Police Department in Maryland. During any gathering of family or friends, the focus would ultimately turn to him for some police drama recap.

MITCHELL_THOMAS_NEILPhoto_2.jpgI think it’s natural for a young boy to want to follow in his father’s career footsteps, and I was no exception.  I will admit it was pretty cool riding to the grocery store in a police car when I was a little kid.

Fast forward several years to when I went on my first ride-along with my father at the age of 19. I was home on leave from the Air Force, and although I wouldn’t pursue a career in law enforcement until my mid-30s, I knew after that night that I would probably end up a cop at some point in life.

On that second-shift ride-along, I experienced a brief car chase, a drug arrest, a warrant arrest, running radar on the BWI Parkway, domestic disputes, building checks, citizen encounters and traffic accidents. I was hooked. It also served as sort of a “common ground” with a guy that at that point in my life, I felt like I didn’t really know that well. I thought we had nothing in common.  I had a new found respect for him and his line of work, not only because of the interesting stories but also in how he represented the badge. That was something which became more important to me as I entered my law enforcement career.

I realized as I grew older that my father policed during Neil_Mitchell_and_his_dad_2.jpgsome challenging times in our nation and in a challenging place, between Baltimore and Washington. There were the race riots of 1968 in Baltimore, through the 1970s, 1980s and into the 1990s there was a shadow cast upon law enforcement nationwide, especially after the Rodney King beating in Los Angeles. Upon reflection of all the stories he had told and opinions he expressed, I can never ever remember a racist or bigoted comment coming from my dad. He always seemed to take the “service” part of his job seriously, regardless of race, sex, religion or social status and that’s something that I find more and more important the longer that I am in this career field.

My dad definitely valued integrity, professionalism, effective communication, officer safety and situational awareness. These are all things that I have tried to work at improving in the past 12 years of my career. He also warned that if I were to ever find myself in a leadership position within law enforcement, to not allow pride, ego, and politics to take control of my decision making.

If I had to sum up what I try to embody as a law enforcement officer based on my father’s influence, I would say that I focus on putting service and professionalism first. Obviously, an effective law enforcement officer wears many hats and there’s a tremendous amount of responsibility that comes with the power to enforce laws and arrest citizens. That is always open to public scrutiny. However, it’s my personal belief that it is my level of service to others and representing the badge with integrity, which makes police work the most rewarding. It also has the greatest impact on the community.

Neil Mitchell is a Greenville-Spartanburg  Airport District police officer.