Behind the Badge -- Sergeant Heather Penner

Sergeant Heather Penner

Why did I become a police officer? That question is not easy to answer because the answer has changed over the years. I feel the best way to answer is first to tell you a little about me.

I’m a real Arizona native. I have spent my entire life in Arizona and even attended college in Arizona. I went through early life thinking I would become a medical student, a researcher, a professor, a leader, a chemist, but never a police officer. Throughout my adventure in higher education, I learned a lot about myself. I loved problem solving, being outside, and I performed best in an ever-changing environment.

Why I Became a Police Officer

Initially, my reason for my career choice was because I thought becoming a police officer in Tempe would be fun, challenging and a new adventure everyday.During the first five years of my career I found it challenging and fun. If you would have asked me five years into my career why I was a police officer I would have said, “I have a passion for guaranteeing the rights of people. I believe in freedom of speech, religion, and the right to demonstrate safely through effective planning and communication.”

Flash forward another five years and my answer changed again. At 10 years into my career and as a new mom, the answer to the question simply became to protect those who cannot protect themselves. At this point in my life I realized everyone is someone’s mother, father, son, daughter, sister, brother, wife, husband and my desire to protect the community was strong.

Why I Still Choose to Be a Police Officer

After 20 years in police work my answer would be simple: to protect! As police officers we are called to protect the community, stand up for those who can’t, save those who need it, mold the future, care for each other, and listen. Listen as people express their frustrations. Listen as people cry after hearing their mother, brother, sister or husband is hurt, in jail, or even dead. Listen as your fellow officers struggle with the ever changing world.

While I was writing this, I realized two things. First, police work is always changing and that is part of what makes it an amazing career. Second, police officers are someone’s mother, sister, wife, husband, father, son, or daughter. Typing the word daughter reminds me of the day my father saw me breaking up a fight after a crazy football game. He stopped his truck in the middle of Mill Avenue and waded through the crowd to be my back-up. There are some things about fathers you can never change.

In Tempe, I have the privilege of working with a group of people who have chosen to answer the call to protect. If the community calls we will come to protect, to problem solve, to listen and to take action. As a child I never dreamed of being a police officer, however; each day is a new adventure.

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