The Souls of Mobile
“My dad was a police officer in Mobile. He started in 1964 and retired in 1990. I came on in 1988. I wanted him to retire before I joined because I didn’t want anyone to think I got the job because of him. By the time I was hired he was in training. He was harder on me than anyone else. I didn’t become an officer because of my dad and he didn’t encourage me to do it. I did a lot of other jobs trying to find myself. I worked retail, worked for an elevator union, and was an ironworker. I installed swimming pools at 14 and have worked and taken care of myself ever since. I sold jewelry, TVs, and VCRs. I got a job working security at Riverview plaza and the supervisor there was a police officer. He was the one who talked me into applying.
Mobile is home. Everywhere else is somewhere else. I have been here for all of the major changes. When I came on in 1980, downtown was boarded up and there were pimps and prostitutes. A few clothing stores on Dauphin Street and some strip clubs on Royal. No restaurants or bars. I helped Jim and Woody Walker open OK Bicycle Shop, the first bar downtown. That was the place that got downtown going and the Walker brothers have done a lot for downtown. I am thrilled watching the change.
In 1991, I was chosen for the Jaguar Unit, a new community-oriented policing unit. I was assigned with a black officer to the worst parts of town. We walked into Happy Hills in February 1991 on foot which was something no one had dreamed of doing. We cleared up problems and made the projects a safer place to live. There were good people there living like prisoners because of the shootings and drug dealers. There was so much good, but you couldn’t see it because of all of the bad you saw on the news. I worked in burglary and then became a robbery detective. After 9/11, I was selected for the joint terrorism task force to work with the FBI. I worked in youth services and the juvenile unit. I went to the Child Advocacy Center eight years ago and retired on May 31. When I retired, they hired me in code enforcement dealing with blight and junk cars.
To many, I was known as the Mardi Gras cop. They needed someone with the right personality to work Government and Jackson where all of the bikers parked and watched the parades. I was there for 22 years until I retired. I knew everyone on that corner and it was a family reunion. Mardi Gras is a joyous occasion for people to come together and celebrate and I made sure my corner was safe. I started working Mardi Gras before there were barricades and people ran up to floats or jumped on them to get something. We tried to keep them away from the float with road flares. The barricades freed up police officers to cover more and made Mardi Gras safer. I went to Mardi Gras when I was a little boy and it is a big part of my life. As an officer, I was an ambassador and loved sharing Mardi Gras and Mobile with the people seeing both for the first time.
We are a music and celebration city and I think we should focus more on music events in Mobile. BayFest and 1065 were fantastic and it was fun to work those events and watch crowds enjoying themselves. We didn’t go for hockey, or baseball or semi-pro football. I grew up when everyone came to Mobile and played at the Civic Center. We could be that again. Both of my children, Anna and Alex, are part of music here.
I look for the good in people, even in the ones I arrested and others called bad. I don’t judge the book by the cover. I open it up and read it first. I want to find out why you did the crime. Why would you go to Circle K with a gun and get $52 for crack that will wear off and you will need more in a few hours. People loosen up when they start talking and know you care. They said people confessed because I talked them to death. Understanding the motivation behind behavior and why a person made a mistake helped me do my job better the next time. I still see guys today that say I talked to them and they understood the mistakes they made and they became better people. That is all I wanted to do.
Things have changed and I think it is harder today to be the officer that I was. There is a fear on both sides, law enforcement and citizens, and there are things both sides can do better. When I was on the streets, I knew the bad guys and we had mutual respect. When you lose mutual respect and communication, you start killing each other. I was on the force for 25 years before the first officer was killed. Since then four or five have been killed. There were some guys I sent to prison and after they got out we shook hands and went to lunch. We still talk about how things used to be and treat each other with respect. It is harder to be an officer on the street when respect and communication are gone on both sides.
I was determined never to send an innocent man to jail. Suspicion was not good enough. In 31 years, I never had a not guilty verdict. Crime shows have made it tough for jury trials. The jury wants what they see on television, but in reality it doesn’t work that way. It is tough with childhood abuse trials. The jury wants DNA but depending on the crime committed you don’t have DNA. The jury would let him go and the children were victims again. I was thankful for my eight years at the CAC but was glad when it ended. Childhood sexual abuse happens much more than you realize and the Internet has made it much worse. There is more reported now, but more crimes are happening and we are worse off. Victims often become perpetrators and you have to work with victims early to stop that cycle before it starts. It breaks your heart.
Law enforcement involves the entire family. I worked 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. for five years. There is a lot of family stuff you miss during those hours, but it is when the bad guys are out there. I would be called in for a robbery and gone for a day or two. I missed birthday parties and school events, but I did the best I could. My kids don’t see me as a police officer. I went home and was just a dad. There were times my wife felt like a single parent but she also understood the bigger picture. I am thankful for the support my family gave me to do a job like this.
People are often nervous meeting police officers, but we are human just like anyone else. I was always approachable and myself, even in uniform. I never introduced my name ad officer. Just my name is Jack, what is your name?
This is going to be my first Mardi Gras on the other side of the barricade and I will be at the very first parade. I think I am returning to my block wearing chaps and a vest and riding a Huffy with a basket and a bell. I can’t wait to see Mobile and the parades from the other side and learn from the crowd. It is time to enjoy Mobile.”
(This begins the series “The Souls of Mobile,” the stories of people nominated because of the good they do for the city. Their faces will also be a part of the mural “The Souls of Mobile” that Ginger Woechan is now painting on Hayley’s Bar. This mural is a collaboration with the Mobile Arts Council and the mural unveiling and block party celebration Is Sunday, December 8th from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. with music by the Excelsior Band and Harrison McGinnis.)