Tulsa Police Officer Reflects on Job and Family
Stephen Tidwell and his family describe his life as a police officer in Tulsa
Stephen Tidwell takes his job as a Tulsa Police Officer in stride. He is humble about the service he gives to the community every day and downplays the dangers. His wife, Amy, on the other hand, is quick to heap accolades on Stephen and to point out that being a police officer is not only dangerous, but often thankless as well. She wants people to know that September 20 is national “Thank a Police Officer Day.”
Amy is justified in her concerns about the dangers of Stephen’s profession. According to the Officer Down Memorial Page (www.odmp.org), there already have been 64 officers killed in the line of duty in the United States in 2014, up 2 percent for this time last year. Gun-related deaths of officers are up 42 percent, and auto-related deaths are up 12 percent. Two police officers have been killed in Oklahoma in the line of duty this year.
I sat down to talk with the couple and their two sons, Rocky and Ty. Rocky is in 2nd grade and Ty is age 4.
TK: Why did you become a police officer?
Stephen: I always wanted to chase bad guys. I love Tulsa. This is where I’m from, and I wanted to be able to help people in the community.
TK: What’s a typical day for you?
Stephen: There is no typical day. There’s a ton of variety – domestic violence, traffic accidents, suicide…Domestic calls can be very volatile, so you follow your training because a situation can go bad. Just when you think it’s a slow day, things will turn around on you. You have to be aware of your surroundings. You might be keeping a guy from beating up his wife, and then his wife will jump on you for arresting him. You have to de-escalate the situation with the things you say, your mannerisms, your body language, how you make them feel as a person.
Amy: Stephen is very good at talking to people. He doesn’t dehumanize them. People will stop and talk to Stephen and say, “Your husband is a good guy.”
TK: What is the hardest thing about being a police officer?
Stephen: It’s easy to project your life onto scenarios, for example, where the victim is an innocent person, and you can’t do anything. Those innocent victims are the most difficult – when you can’t help, but you wish you could help.
TK: How do you handle being in a dangerous job?
Stephen: For the most part, I do my best. I compartmentalize things. I love the camaraderie of the job. You form a bond with the people you work with because you put your life in their hands.
Amy: I compartmentalize, too, and I don’t think about [the dangers]. There were a few times that I did get panicked. One time I was talking to Stephen and he had to go immediately. It was when a Walgreens was being held up. I follow him on the iPhone, so I know if he’s in a dangerous situation.
TK: Describe some of the situations you’ve encountered.
Stephen: One time we were called to a house, and we had the people contained inside, except one guy with a machete got out the back door. He was attempting to position himself behind an air conditioner unit at the side of the house, so he could get to me as I came around. I saw him before he got to the unit and drew [my gun] on him. He turned and ran back in the house, and I followed him in and he went to the floor.
TK: So, you didn’t shoot at him?
Stephen: No. I made myself clear, and he went to the ground. We’re faced with decisions that carry very heavy consequences, not just for me or the victim, but also for my family.
Amy (jumping in to the conversation): It irks me more than anything when people say, ‘They’re trigger happy.’ When someone pulls a gun on you [the police officer], that officer wants to go home to his family.
TK: What are some other situations you run into?
Stephen: We were to told to go to a house to pick up a mom and baby who are both positive for meth. I’m holding the baby and I find out later that the baby has viral meningitis. I had to take pills for that one to avoid infection.
Amy: I don’t think people realize the risk they’re exposed to, the disease, homes infested with bugs, patting someone down and being stuck with needles…A guy spit in his face trying to infect him with AIDS.
TK: Rocky, what do you think of your dad being a police officer?
Rocky: It’s pretty cool. He does a lot of stuff for me, and he saves people from car wrecks. He’s really a great dad. He coached our lacrosse team.
TK: Do you ever worry about him?
Rocky: I worry a lot. He’s in bad situations. We pray when we’re worried.
TK: What do you wish people knew about police officers?
Stephen: We’re just regular people trying to do a difficult job. We’re just in bad situations, and we’re trying to figure out what to do quickly. People thank me, and that makes it all worth it – knowing you made a difference.