A retired Tallahassee police officer has taken up writing as a new career. Donna Brown spent 26 years in the nation’s 3rd-oldest city police department, ending her tenure as sergeant in the homicide unit. She retired 11 years ago. But while so many first responders spend their retirement on the golf course, traveling the world or simply relaxing, Brown felt compelled to stay in touch with her first profession and its practitioners.
“For years I’ve been told by friends and family that I should write,” she said. “I laugh and chuckle that the nuns in my Catholic school upbringing would be very happy about that. But I never thought about that and I said when things became so negative in the media for law enforcement over the past couple of years, I had the idea that there’s so much that people don’t know.”
But Brown wanted potential readers to know in advance that her book – “Behind and Beyond the Badge” - is by no means a “cops are always right and everyone else is always wrong” kind of tome. She insisted she and the vast majority of those in law enforcement are appalled and frankly mortified whenever a colleague willfully violates their public trust.
“I don’t even like the term ‘bad cops’. Are there people in law enforcement or first responder profession that possibly – or probably – shouldn’t be in that line of work? Absolutely! But that’s no different from any other profession and those who are good cops and good people and love serving their community, absolutely it’s hard for them to see some of the stuff that they see.”
Brown sees a lot of the negative perception of law enforcement on the part of the public to be connected to old stereotypes and downright falsehoods.
“I’ll tell you one thing that truly bothered me when I was an officer and I know it bothers officers now is, if they’re in a restaurant or somewhere out in public and a child is acting up and the parent grabs the child and says, ‘If you don’t behave, I’m going to have that officer arrest you!’ We’re instilling fear into that child that an officer is a bad thing. That they’re going to take you to jail. And that’s just not true!”
Although Brown admitted, as cities like Tallahassee have grown, the “Friendly Neighborhood Cop” persona has become ever tougher for the average street patrol officer to project.
“When I was hired in 1979, TPD was certainly smaller,” she remembered. “I think the agency had roughly 150 officers, which they’re pushing 400 (now). Policing itself has changed over the years. And this is my opinion, it appears that policing is often call-driven now. The officers are bouncing from call to call, where for me when I was still working the streets, the city closed down, especially when the students weren’t in town, at midnight, 2 o’clock at the latest when the bars closed.”
Even so, Brown had some advice for today’s generation of patrol officers, even as they race from call to call.
“I encourage officers to let down their guard. If you have an encounter, say in Starbucks, and someone engages you in conversation, do that; humanize the badge and yourself as an officer and let people know there’s a person behind that badge and inside that uniform, just like the person you’re engaging. Officers live in the communities they serve, they love the communities they serve, their children go to school in the communities they serve. They care about their community.”
And so it was that Brown approached some of her old co-workers at TPD, as well as some other first responders both here and elsewhere – a total of 21 in all – to share their very human stories.
“Let me see if I can even get people to participate in the book,” she explained was her first task. “And when I started contacting people, I was actually kind of amazed at their willingness to truly open their hearts and let me tell their stories in hopes of giving people a different perspective.”
Long-time Tallahasseeans will probably know several of the characters Brown includes in her list. And, just as Brown found there was a very fulfilling and productive life after TPD, she also followed her subjects into their “second careers” after retirement. Now Brown is hoping for an appreciative audience for her work.
“It’s for sale online with either Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Apple…you can actually go to our web site and purchase it from there. It’s available as an e-book, paperback or hardback. I’m working to get it into local stores, but I’d love people to read it and I would really like feedback on the book.”