Sgt. Mike Cooper said he and other officers have one goal at the end of each shift.
“No matter what happens during the shift, your goal is to go home and be with your family,” he said Wednesday night while patrolling Seymour neighborhoods in his cruiser.
It’s a somber thought but a reality police officers everywhere face each and every time they signal 10-41 to dispatch that they have begun another workday.
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“It goes through your mind because you never know what is going to happen at some of the calls we get sent to,” he said.
This week, many in Jackson County have taken the time to recognize Cooper and other police officers for their sacrifices and work to keep communities safe as a way to celebrate National Police Week.
The week has been celebrated since President John F. Kennedy signed a proclamation declaring May 15 as Peace Officers Memorial Day and the week in which it falls as National Police Week.
In Jackson County, local businesses, schools and members of the community have honored officers all week with breakfasts, meals, events and other ways to express gratitude.
“They may not know us by name, but they support us,” said Seymour Police Chief Bill Abbott of the recognition the department received this week.
Cooper’s wife, Katie, and Sgt. Jack Swindell’s wife, Tammy, assembled gift bags for the department’s officers this week with the help of the group Women Behind the Badge.
The group was formed last fall by police officers’ wives as a way to help recognize their husbands, but it has become a support group for the wives.
Each gift bag included a gift card, snacks and a variety of things police officers use each day.
“The idea was to start getting together to start something like this (packing bags), but then it turned into a police wife support group,” Katie Cooper said.
The group, which was formed by Leah Watson last fall, helps in times when police wives are sick, have a baby or are in need of some support.
The group also socializes with each other through events in the community.
“We will go out to dinner or do pallet craft paintings to kind of bond,” Katie said. “We met and we have just gone from there and have gotten to know people that we wouldn’t have known.”
Mike Cooper said he thinks the group is a great resource for police spouses and it is a positive thing for them to be able to interact and share experiences.
“I think it’s a good thing to start that support group,” he said. “The wives may have known each other in passing, but now, they really know each other and know they can call on each other.”
Having someone there who understands what they’re going through is the kind of support police spouses needs, Katie said, because she worries each shift her husband works knowing it’s possible he may not return.
“It’s scary, but I know that I’m really proud to be an officer’s wife and my kids are proud,” Katie said. “I think it’s a privilege, but a scary one. Mike works at night, and if I wake up in the middle of the night, I can’t go back to sleep. There’s a lot of pacing the house.”
Cooper’s father was an officer in Missouri where he grew up.
Watching his father help people, Cooper knew he wanted to do the same thing.
“I just wanted to do it and tried to lead my life that way,” he said.
So after high school, Cooper decided to join the U.S. Marine Corps in the security forces.
He was stationed on the U.S.S. Dwight D. Eisenhower and then moved to an infantry unit.
He moved to Seymour and worked at the old Heilig-Meyers furniture store before moving to Ohio for a time.
He returned to Jackson County when he accepted the Medora town marshal’s position.
Two and a half years later, he was hired by the Seymour Police Department. He just celebrated his 20th work anniversary on April 1. He now is a night shift sergeant, a shift he said he enjoys.
A lot has changed over his 22 years in law enforcement.
“We didn’t think about having a laptop in the car. We barely had a cellphone,” he said.
He can now scan a license and registration, type a few things into the computer and print a ticket.
“The younger generation has changed,” he said. “The new officers we hire have a different perspective.”
He said the younger officers are typically coming onto the department with a college degree. His son, Chris, has followed in his footsteps, having served in the Navy. He is now a police officer in Crothersville.
Mike said the thought of not returning home does cross his mind from time to time when he gets dispatched to an incident. That’s because the incidents can change before police get there and can be unpredictable.
“Sometimes, the information the dispatch has received has changed a whole lot by the time we get there, and we don’t know the change unless someone stays on the line or calls back,” he said.
It may be two people fighting in their yard, but by the time they get there, it could be someone going to get a knife or gun, he said.
Cooper reflected on a time a few years ago when he was called to do a welfare check on a man who mentioned being suicidal.
“We get there and can’t find him,” he said, adding the only place left to search was the basement. “As soon as we start going down the stairs, he shoots himself. He could have very easily shot one of us.”
Processing a situation like that can be difficult, but in the moment, officers have a job to do, he said.
“We saw what happened, and we did what we could. You don’t really think of that at the time because you have to focus,” he said.
He and other officers talk about those situations afterward to support each other.
Swindell said that situation is just one example the public doesn’t always realize when they think about what police officers do each day.
“They go into the homes that the normal person wouldn’t see every day and have to come home with that,” she said. “Especially with the children and drug problems. They go into the homes and see these things and it takes its toll, and the public doesn’t always have that in mind.”
That thought is always there, Mike said, and officers and staff are reminded each day about what can happen on the job when they look at the memorials in the lobby of the fallen officers who have served at the department.
The department has lost three officers in the line of duty since 1934.
John Pfaffenberger died June 6, 1934, after being shot while pursuing suspects of a robbery.
Donald M. Winn died Nov. 7, 1961, following a gunshot wound he sustained while investigating a robbery at a business in Seymour.
Jack W. Osborne died Aug. 15, 1981, when he was struck and killed on Interstate 65 by a drunk driver as he was looking at damage to a guardrail after a truck had hit it.
“I see them every day and think about them,” Abbott said.
With all of the danger the job brings, Mike said there is nothing more satisfying than when he is able to bring resolution to a case that has taken a long time to solve.
“There’s great satisfaction when you have a case that you’ve been working awhile and you either get a confession or you have enough evidence,” he said. “When you have your ducks in a row and can get a result, that’s satisfaction.”
But that’s not the only motivating factor for being an officer at the Seymour Police Department, which he said because the department is a great place to work.
“I honestly do this job to help people,” he said. “That might be a generic answer, but that’s what I like about being an officer.”