EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the fourth story in a series about local law-enforcement officers.
When Heather McLemore wonders what would have happened if she hadn’t been in school the day law-enforcement officers came to visit, she shakes her head and shudders a bit.
McLemore, a Great Bend Police Department patrol officer, had extremely negative attitudes about police as a child.
“I personally knew an officer who could be abusive,” she recalled. “And to a kid, he was mean and scary. It scared me to see a person in uniform. I had no respect for law enforcement.”
Then came that day in the fourth grade when local and military police visited. The event changed her mind and her life.
“That day just completely changed everything for me,” she said. “Officers were playing with us and explaining what they do. I learned it is not the uniform that is bad or good. It is the person in the uniform.”
McLemore explains her change of heart in a new video called “Why I Wear the Badge.” While only 2-and-a-half minutes long, the video allows McLemore and a few colleagues to share the reasons they want to protect and serve.
The Golden Belt Community Foundation organized the video’s production with the backing of an anonymous donor.
“The video gave me a chance to get out of my comfort zone and be candid,” McLemore commented. “People think officers are rough and tough all the time. But we want to show that we are like everybody else.”
If people get to know officers as real people, maybe perceptions can change. After all, she remembered, one mind was changed on one occasion.
McLemore was talking to a guy who sported a tattoo that was less than flattering about cops.
“He called us a name that wasn’t complimentary,” she laughed. “After I told him I was a cop, he was amazed and we kept on talking. When the conversation was over, he shook my hand. Maybe this video can help others feel differently too.
“Since that day in school, this is all I ever wanted to be,” she added. “I did start taking prerequisites at Barton Community College for transfer to chiropractic school but knew it wasn’t what I wanted. This is where my heart is.”
McLemore also noted “our area is very pro-law enforcement because we treat people like we want to be treated.”
Originally from Medicine Lodge, McLemore has served Great Bend for almost three years. Previously, she was a jailer at the Barton County Sheriff’s Office and the Atchison County Jail.
Great Bend Police Chief Cliff Couch praised McLemore for her candor in the video.
“She is open with her feelings and paints a great picture of a person who has a passion for what she does,” Couch said. “We are not out there to bully people, we are out there to help people.
“One of the biggest reasons the law-enforcement profession has issues with its image is perception,” Couch continued. “Part of that is our own fault. We don’t always do a great job of letting people get to know us.
“We’re often so busy trying to appear tough that we don’t let folks see that we are all normal people who have a passion for our communities. I appreciate Heather and the other officers in the video letting down their guard to show that passion.”
With the onslaught of negative news about law enforcement throughout the country, Couch hopes the video will demonstrate attitudes are different in Great Bend.
“When cops do things they shouldn’t, it makes my blood boil,” Couch said. “If an officer in our department is corrupt or purposely abusive, the least of their worries should be special-interest groups and anti-police organizations. That’s how all of us feel.
“We hold each other to a very high standard because we really care about this profession and the people we serve,” the chief elaborated. “Sure, we make mistakes. We learn from them and move on. But we honestly just want to do a good job for our community.”
Christy Tustin, Golden Belt Community Foundation (GBCF) executive director, said the anonymous donor believes strongly that officers deserve recognition. He financed the video so officers could tell their stories; he also is financing school lunches for the officers.
“We are honored to help with this project, and are impressed with the officers and their stories,” Tustin said. “When Chief Couch suggested the video, I thought it was a great idea and our donor was all for it.”
“Why I Wear the Badge” is available on the GBCF website, as well as to the city of Great Bend and the police department. Local civic clubs also may be interested in viewing the video.
Aaron Mull, Great Bend videographer, said he enjoyed the project and hopes the video will be well received.
“I chose to go with black and white to keep it simple and straight forward,” Mull commented. “The dialogue is the important part. My vision was to make it seem like an intimate conversation between the officers and the viewers.
“It was cool to see the officers taking a few minutes out of their day to make this meaningful video,” he added. “The community will be impressed and realize the officers comments are genuine.”