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October 24, 2012

Passion for being a cop

APD chief explains profession to classes at TVCC

Athens — More than a few years have passed since Athens Police Department Chief Buddy Hill decided law enforcement was the career for him. While some things have changed, his passion for the field has stayed the same.

Recently, Hill shared his reasons for becoming a policeman with the law enforcement classes at Trinity Valley Community College. During his speech, he talked about his history in the field, and offered some practical advice to students who want to create a career in law enforcement.

Hill said he became a law enforcement officer in 1991 when he was 20 years old.

“I was a lot younger than that when I decided that was what I wanted to do,” said Hill to the class. “As a child, I was a witness to a crime. Because of my age I felt totally helpless. I made a decision early in my life to help people who were in that situation.

“When you have something like that happen, it makes a strong impact on your life.”

These days, he’s in charge of the Athens Police Department, overseeing 26 officers and nine civilian employees.

He told the class that there are certainly jobs available for certified officers. In fact, he noted, he has a few positions open now. However, he said, becoming a police officer is not easy and past mistakes can haunt an applicant.

“We lose a lot of people in the background check,” said Hill. “The things you do now will follow you the rest of your life.”

He said those who want to work on his force must complete their state certification before applying. Then, he said, applicants go through an interview, a thorough background check, a polygraph test and a psychological evaluation before joining the force.

He offered three practical steps to the group.

First, he encouraged the students to remember that the decisions they make now will affect their futures.

“It’s always important to tell us if there’s been something in your past,” said Hill. “Trust is the most important thing to a police officer, and if I can’t trust you to come forward with your past in your interview I can’t trust you on my force.”

Also, he said, students should be careful where they put tattoos. Even that decision can have an effect on their employability.

“Please, think about your tattoos. We don’t allow anyone to have tattoos that would be visible in a uniform,” said Hill.

Credit reports, social media posts and all sorts of aspects of a potential officer’s personal life come into play during the hiring process.

“Just be sure to keep your business straight,” he said. “Facebook will follow you forever, and we’ve pulled YouTube videos as evidence in cases. Once something is on the internet, it doesn’t go away. The things you do after 17 stick around forever.”

These days, technology plays a big role in both the hiring process and criminal prosecution. Social media sites are investigated as part of the hiring process, he noted. And when it comes to criminal cases, cell phone records and even YouTube videos can play a role.

Second, he encouraged the students to make sure to get as much college as possible. While state certification for a police officer does require some college, more departments are looking for applicants with complete degrees.

Often, he said, departments will allow prior military or police experience to stand in place of some of the required college hours. But, said Hill, it’s not the preferred way.

“College hours are the best,” he said.

And by having those college hours, said Hill, students can follow his third piece of advice: Have a backup plan.

“This job is demanding. This job is stressful. This job is not for everyone,” said Hill. “And so having a backup plan is essential. If you come into the field and it’s not for you, what skills do you have to go another direction?”

After 17 years in the field, Hill said, he’s still sure the job is right for him.

“It’s like any other job. Some days it’s great, some days it’s not. But I still enjoy this job. I still enjoy helping people,” said Hill.

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