The heart behind the uniform


Pictured above is Commander Chuck Mulligan, a 29-year officer of the St. John’s County Sheriff’s Office.

By Katherine Hamilton |

“The kids are too young to understand what it means,” stated an anonymous officer when asked what his family thinks of his occupation as a detective for the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.

The detective was glowing with pride at the mention of his children. Immediately, he pulled out his phone to display a picture of a project his daughter had done for school. He pointed excitedly at the middle of the screen to the place where is daughter had written, “My Daddy works hard to fight bad guys.” His stoic face burst with a grin before he placed the phone away again.

As for his wife, he said how she would have trouble falling asleep while he was on patrol. She would wait for the sound of Velcro ripping as he took off his gear before she would be able to settle peacefully. Throughout his nine-year career, his goal has been to come safely home to his family.

To the detective, being a police officer is not just a career, but a lifestyle. When asked why he chose his occupation, he said that he does not have a specific moment that made him want to become a police officer, but he does have members of his family who were in the field. When he was a young boy he looked up to his uncle, who was a police officer as well as a volunteer firefighter. From then on, he had always been intrigued police work. Overall, he stated that as far back as he can remember, he wanted to be a police officer and that he–“just likes helping people.”

Commander Chuck Mulligan, a 29-year officer from the St. John’s County Sheriff’s Office, noted that he does not think it makes them heroes. However, he said one thing which characterizes police officers is that they are willing to place themselves in harm’s way in order to save someone from being hurt.

“I don’t think it makes us special in any way, but it does make us different because there is something that draws us to want to stop the chaos,” he said.

Physically speaking, Mulligan described how being a police officer places them in what they call a “hyper-vigilant mode of operation.” They must constantly be aware of their shifting surroundings in order to be able to react to whatever occurs.

In the same regard, the anonymous detective from the JSO detailed that the amount of adrenaline pumping through his body after a day’s work makes transitioning from work to home and being able to sleep an arduous process.  He admitted to often having vivid dreams about the events that occurred in the day, and agreed that police work runs the risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder.

“The fight in the street is for your life,” he said. “You lose that fight, and you don’t go home.”

Both Commander Mulligan and the anonymous detective revealed that the country’s attitude towards law enforcement has greatly shifted over the past four to five years. Commander Mulligan said that there has been an ongoing trend in mass media which has led to widespread negative opinions.

“People have made comments that law enforcement is completely racially motivated to enforce laws, which is not true,” Mulligan said.

Although Mulligan said he can’t speak for all law enforcement, he can understand the negative connotation surrounding police today.

“In some of these cases that have occurred in the country in the last couple years, the officers apparently appeared to be wrong in what they did, and they are going to pay a price for that,” Mulligan said. “That means that officer should pay the price, not every officer who’s out there.”

Commander Mulligan discussed his desire for the equality of all people, including police officers. He said that police officers, more often than not, are reacting to what they are seeing and observing.

“You cannot stereotype folks by color, you cannot stereotype folks by religion, and you cannot stereotype folks by their background,” he said. “You certainly cannot stereotype people by the job they choose to go into.”

Each man expressed that they do not desire to be involved in altercations, and most importantly, they do not want to shoot anyone.

“My goal is to go home at the end of the night,” the anonymous detective said.

Commander Mulligan clarified that violence is terrible no matter who is committing it. However, he made clear that law enforcement is the one entity that is allowed to take a more hands-on approach of action when necessary. “That’s the job”, he said, “But there has to be a certain set of parameters and a certain set of circumstances before we can do that.”

And just as Mulligan said all police officers can’t be blamed for violence, the anonymous detective said that all people of one race can’t be blamed for crime.

Without hesitation, he said, “We need get away from this PC culture and call a spade a spade. It is what it is: you’re a criminal.  It’s not black people, its not whites. It’s a small segment of society who are causing all the problems.”

When arresting people, and particularly youth with the unit he is involved in, he often prefers to be a voice of reason.

“I’m arresting you because I understand you did this. But what are you going to do from this day forward? Is this what you are going to do, or are you going to do the right thing? Are you going to go to school and get out of this ghetto? Are you going to take your mom and your family out of this ghetto, or is this where you’re going to be for the rest of your life?”

He confirmed that while some guys meet with offense and resistance, he’s had many who appreciate his belief in them.

Overall, the detective believes that the overwhelming majority of the community is with law enforcement and not against it, even though he knows many are apprehensive from what they have heard.

“The way I look at it, it’s not us versus them, but I think they look at it that way. I try to explain that we are all on the same team.”

He tries to stay positive, and show that police officers are there to keep the community safe.  Despite being discouraged by attitudes towards law enforcement sometimes, he said that if he could make a difference in one person’s life in a 25-year career, it would be worth it. Commander Mulligan went a step further, wishing to impress the intention of the majority of police officers fighting every day to keep civilians safe. In one phrase, he resolved, “We are the community.”

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