- By Lt. Tim McMillan
And Then There Was One...
The field of Police “Public Figures” is a fairly sparse one. In one corner, you have a small group of law enforcement public figures, who are typically known for their commentary on various news outlets, such as former Sheriff Joe Arpaio and Sheriff David Clarke. These particular police pundits are either, famous or infamous, depending on your particular political views.
In another corner, you have a small collective of social and web media public law enforcement figures whose focus is on comedic endeavors. This group is made up of Officer Daniels, “Mike the Cop,” “Deputy Hook’em and Book’em,” and probably a few others I’m missing.
Also, in the mix, you have Officer Dominick Izzo and Captain Clay Higgins. Higgins is actually a Republican U.S. Congressman now and though Izzo isn’t a politician, he is currently running for Sheriff of Cook County and he doesn't shy away from his conservative views. Basically, Izzo and Higgins could be considered to be the Republican police public figure bench.
Lastly, off to the side, you have the “community police” club, which basically comprises me, and Officer Tommy Norman of North Little Rock, Arkansas. Interestingly, the community police club is comprised of the least known of the police public figures, myself, and arguably the most famous of all of the police public figures, Officer Norman. Now, I’m lumping Officer Norman and myself into the same “community police” category, however, to be fair we are fairly different in what we do.
I could be considered probably a more purely civil rights activist, as I discuss a wide range of topics in support of the freedoms and equality for all people. Truthfully, law enforcement specific topics probably compromise around 50% of what I discuss. In fact, probably the principle reason that I rest on the bottom rung of the police public figure popularity ladder, is because I spend most of my efforts focused on some form of civil rights topics. Let’s be honest, when you try to inspire all people, which includes the enormous diversity that comes with it, to exist with each other harmoniously, the only sure thing is that you're bound to piss off some segment of the population at any given moment. Especially, when you are willing to bring up the most controversial of aspects that keep us apart.
Now, in contrast, Officer Tommy Norman represents the genuine epitome of a community police officer, in that he is well-known for his heartwarming videos showing him interact within the community he serves. Officer Norman humanizes the badge, by demonstrating that indeed the police uniform can house a person with a heart of gold and a love of people. Additionally, Officer Norman humanizes the people who live in some neighborhoods that some people lock their doors and drive as fast as possible to get away from. In a way, Officer Norman displays life in its purest form by making famous the average person who often lives a life that is tucked snuggly outside of the society’s collective conscious. Officer Norman, embodies all of the good that can be achieved in policing and he does so with a personality that makes you want to curl up on the floor and listen to him read you story while enjoying an ice cream cone. In essence, it’s not hard to see that Officer Norman isn’t a cop acting for a camera. Rather, he is a genuinely good human being, who just so happens to also be a cop.
Or at least he was...
No… Officer Norman is still a good person. However, at the behest of his command at the North Little Rock Police Department, he is no longer a symbolism of a good person who is a cop. Well, to be specific, Officer Norman is still a police officer with the North Little Rock Police Department. However, from now on, all of his good deeds and his work in the community, will be attributed to the work of Tommy Norman the man and not Tommy Norman the police officer.
Because, as of yesterday, June 28th, Officer Norman was informed by his superiors that he is no longer allowed to post videos or images with him in uniform or that identify him as a police officer with their agency.
And Saint Michael just lost his wings…
It was the movie, "A Wonderful life," that gave us the phrase, “Every time a bell rings, an angel gets its wings.” Now, in that same spirit, on the opposite end of the spectrum, when an officer like Tommy Norman, who is known for nothing other than his amazing interactions with the community he serves and protects, has his connection to law enforcement severed by the very profession he is making look good, Saint Michael, the patron Saint of law enforcement loses his wings.
On June 28th Officer Norman posted a video on his public Facebook page, notifying his 1.2 million followers that he had received word from his bosses that an existing department policy, which prohibited officers from posting videos or images while working would now be enforced. In effect, Officer Tommy Norman would now become Tommy Norman, at least when it came to showing positive involvement and interaction within his community.
In the video, Officer Norman could be seen, noticeably less chipper, than we have become accustomed to seeing him in his past videos. Don’t get me wrong, noticeably “less chipper” for Tommy Norman, simply means he is still demonstrating just a few levels of positivity above the bulk of us on a good day. However, for anyone who has watched any of his videos they could tell Officer Norman was a little off-key. Not to mention, in the video his trademark navy blue police uniform was missing and in its place was a striped polo. In light of this, still demonstrating the hallmark of person’s who possess the character we should all strive to have, Officer Norman politely said he, “Respects the decision despite being unhappy with it.”
And Then There Was One…
Officer Norman isn’t the first police public figure to have his personal and police identity undone from public consumption.
Capt. Clay Higgins, resigned from his position at the St. Landry Parish Sheriff’s Department in 2016 after the Sheriff told him to tone down his messages in the department’s weekly Crime Stoppers videos. In truth, it was Higgin’s monotone Crime Stoppers videos, in which the former Captain used strong and uncomplimentary language towards accused perpetrators, that made him extremely popular online. However, when the Sheriff requested that Higgins tone down his language in his videos such as saying things like, “You have no brain cells” and various other disrespectful and demeaning comments, in his characteristically biblical dramatic fashion, Higgins response to this request was, “"I would die rather than sacrifice my principles. I would leave my wife without a husband, my children without a daddy, rather than kneel to the very forces of evil that I have so long stood against." The citizens of the 3rd Congressional District in Louisiana seemed to agree with Higgins principles, and Captain Clay Higgins is now Rep. Clay Higgins.
Officer Daniels, “Mike the Cop” “Deputy Hook’em and Book’em” all appear to be still employed as police officers since many of their videos do show them in seemingly legitimate police vehicles with real equipment. However, their uniforms are devoid of any agency’s patch, and their badges lack identifiable information. Truthfully, where they police is not known, at least in terms of the public sphere of things.
Officer Izzo, was fired by his employer, the Round Lake Park Police Department in December of last year, after he came out publically and accused his boss, Chief George Filenko, of being incompetent and facilitating the conviction of an innocent woman for murdering a toddler, though a coerced confession in 2009. So though Officer Izzo, currently still uses the title of “officer,” he does not at this time appear to be actively employed in the profession.
Now, inarguably the best and most beneficial to the entire profession, Officer Tommy Norman, joins the group of police public figures who have been forced to no longer associate their profession with their public image. Let me be the first to say, that’s sad. It’s sad for Officer Norman and it’s sad for the entire profession. It’s sad that a forum that afforded the public the ability to see police officers in a uniquely humanistic light is gone. Especially considering that this was something that a lot of people have probably never seen in their entire lives.
Sheriff Joe is no longer “America’s Sheriff” or a Sheriff at all for that matter. Rather, currently, he’s a defendant in a criminal trial, which leaves Sheriff Clarke and me, when it comes to police figures in the public eye. To be fair, Sheriff Clarke answers to no one but himself, at least until the next election and then the voters will have a say-so in his continued tenure as a celebrity lawman.
Now, when it comes to me, because of the, at times, controversial subject matters I discuss, I could understand if my employer didn’t want me to publish videos of me in uniform. In fact, for this very reason, I now no longer do that and I often conceal my department’s patch. I do this out of respect for the fact that I don’t want anyone to think that I speak for my agency in anything I discuss. Indeed, I am an active police Lieutenant, however, the thoughts, opinions, and writings are all my own.
However, nothing that Officer Norman did was controversial nor was it anything but highlighting the best an officer can do in a community. So for this reason, I cannot understand what the North Little Rock PD’s rational is for their enforcement in barring Officer Norman from continuing the work he has been doing. In fact, it is so seemingly bizarre it makes me think there has to be something behind the scenes that has not been made public that prompted the recent censorship. Either way, it still doesn’t help all of us in the police profession, regardless of the rational.
Lastly, if someone like Officer Norman can be banned from being in the public eye as a police officer, it makes me wonder if my days are numbered as well. One is the loneliest number, and right now I seemingly sit alone in terms of the public cops are concerned. This is an especially lonely place to be in, when you consider in my efforts to improve the profession, at times I am highly critical of it.
However, there is no point in dwelling on the worst of what can or could happen. Instead, I will just keep going forward and try to stay true to myself and my belief that working to establish bonds amongst people, are indeed the exactly what principled justice and ethical police work should concern itself with. I’ll just keep believing in virtues of seeking righteousness and truth for the betterment of people. Then should the worst ever come… well, to play on the final words of the Revolutionary War hero Nathan Hale, just before he was hung by the British –
The only regret I have is that I have but one job to lose in the pursuits of equality and righteousness for all people.