EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one story in a series of articles about local law-enforcement officers.
When Don Paden was a Great Bend Police Department reservist about four decades ago, he performed safety presentations in schools as a ventriloquist with his friend, Jonnie. But he probably didn’t realize he was setting the stage for three other Paden family members to serve the public.
Just as Don put words into Jonnie’s mouth, he instilled a message into the hearts of his two sons, and ultimately a grandson.
That message was: “Treat people like you want to be treated.”
During a conversation with David, Bill and Mason Paden, Don’s bit of advice was repeated regularly. They carry it with them every day as local law-enforcement officers.
David, 46, and Bill, 41, are Don’s sons. Mason, 23, is David’s son. All are Great Bend High School graduates.
David is a detective sergeant at the Barton County Sheriff’s Office, where he started as a reservist in 1992 and became a detention deputy a short time later. He was promoted to patrol officer the next year and became a detective in 2004. He was promoted to sergeant in 2013.
Bill was a sheriff’s reservist and a Barton County dispatcher in the late 1990s and moved to the police department in 2005. He currently is a patrol sergeant.
Mason was a reservist too and became a Great Bend patrol officer in 2014. All are graduates of the Kansas Law Enforcement Training Center at Hutchinson.
“It was really neat that we got the family perception of law enforcement early on,” David said. “I can remember officers throwing me up in the air when I was a little kid.
“And Jim Daily (former Barton County sheriff) was a big influence too. He treated us like we were his own. Mason got it his whole life,” David continued, with Mason saying, “Yeah, I remember cops throwing me up in the air too. I got to know them as real people and learned how to treat others.”
David recalled a day when Mason demonstrated he might have the law-enforcement bug. As David was driving his eighth-grader home from school, he heard a report about shots fired into a house and they passed the scene.
“Mason was looking out the window and said ‘look Dad, there are targets on that fence. They are in line with that house.’ We turned around. The guy had been shooting an SKS at targets; a field and this house were in the background. We recovered the round.”
Mason acknowledged that he “wanted to do this my whole life. I pretty much got hooked on it.”
David said people have asked him why he would let his son be a cop “with the way things are today. I admit I was scared when he told me. It is not the same today as it was back then. Mason has a tougher job than Bill and I ever had. But he is a good kid, with a good heart.”
Mason said he knew what he was getting into – especially because of his family background and his volunteer service as a reserve officer. “I heard warnings about things that could happen. But when Dad asked me if I was sure, I said yes.”
David and Bill noted that their wives, Amy and Anne respectively, understand what the job entails. “We have to miss some family things, and sometimes we have to sleep through them,“ Bill laughed.
Bill also noted that Barton County is in large part a pro-law-enforcement community.
“Yes, we do hear snide remarks now and then, but nothing volatile,” he said. “I was helping at the After Harvest Festival this year and people would just come up and thank us for the job we do. It’s nice to hear that.”
Mason blamed the pervasiveness of social media for some of the nation’s issues related to law enforcement.
“Social media influences the public much more than it should,” Mason said. “Not too long ago, I had to approach a black male about a possible domestic problem and as soon as he saw me, he said, ‘I know you’re going to shoot me.’ I just shook my head and said, no, I am not going to shoot you.”
Coincidentally, a black female officer responded to this call with Mason, who told the man he could talk to her if that would make him more comfortable.
“The thing is, I was acquainted with this man,” Mason said. “And he had never acted that way before. He had probably been following Facebook.”
Despite this type of unusual situation and the occasional snide remark, the Padens experience the rewards that come with the job.
People they have arrested come up to them with the same message: I am glad you arrested me. I have turned my life around. I am getting back on track.
“We know we are dealing with people at one of the worst times in their lives,” Bill commented. “But being arrested doesn’t make you a bad person. Sometimes you are in the wrong place at the wrong time. The best part of the job is when people tell me an arrest changed them for the better.”
Oftentimes this happens when drugs are involved. “But it could be somebody who is just in a rough spot,” Mason said. “They do what they do because they don’t know another way.
“I had to arrest a guy for shoplifting,” he elaborated. “He said he was in a hard spot and just needed some food.”
Then there are times when officers are thanked for saving a life. David said one man thanks him every time they run into one another.
“This guy still comes up to me and says I saved his life,” David said. “He was in an accident and I broke the window out of the car so he could get out. That was one of the scariest moments but one of the happiest.”
All the Padens hope to move on up the ladder in their law- enforcement careers.
“There are days that I am tired. But I have never had a day that I didn’t want to go to work,” Mason said. He got no argument from his dad or his uncle.