Life's what happens while we're making other plans, or so John Lennon once said. Tom Andrews, current chief of police in Cortland, just might agree.
''My first years in college, I had an undecided major. I thought I'd go into environmental sciences or something close to that,'' he relates. ''Then I started to see that I liked being involved with people. I really thought I could get involved - it sounds hokey, but it's really true - and do some good.
''I went to the (Police) Academy in 1984 and became a reserve officer, unpaid,'' said Andrews. ''I worked five years as a full-time officer for the Ohio Department of Natural Resources until I could take the civil service test. I started here full time in 1991 and worked my way up. When I got hired, it was like, 'You mean you're really going to pay me to do something that I want to do?'
''I learned that part of the benefit of being a good police officer is that you have to be empathetic - and even though it sounds cliche - really want to help people. Since we're the ones on the job at four in the morning, we're the ones who get the calls for help. Whether you choose to help is something completely different.''
The reason I wanted to talk with Andrews was my sense that things had really changed since he sat down in the chief's chair. A department that had its issues and was the talk of the town for reasons that weren't positive seemed to have changed its spots. Where there was once only criticism, now there is praise.
It seemed to me that the obvious difference had to be due to the change in the man at the top.
''Over the years, we've gotten rid of those who didn't want to be here or shouldn't have been here,'' Andrews said.
''Those who are here now want to be. They interact well with the community. Even in difficult situations, the community understands that what we do is for the right reasons, that we have no axes to grind. We try to be as professional as possible.''
Chief Andrews is a man of principles who has the strength to believe in the officers he hires, give them the training and indoctrination into what is expected of them, then let them do their jobs. Over all, he has few complaints with his officers' actions. On the rare occasion that he does, they talk it out and are encouraged to learn from their mistakes.
He says now the rules are the same for everyone; all are treated fairly.
''Of course there is mandatory training for every officer and it's the same for each one. They have to know how to write up solid reports that can be handed up to the prosecutor that will get results,'' Andrews said. ''A report may not seem like it means something today, but a few months down the road, it may shed light on another case that will help close both cases. It's important to record the details.
''Once an officer is solid on basics, there are also classes that they can choose for specialization. I like to leave it up to them what they'll pick so it's what they're interested in. If you send them to something they don't care about, they'll get nothing from it,'' he said.
Because of the opportunity to specialize, the department now has a detective, a school resource officer and an officer who is trained in accident investigations. They not only do the day-to-day police work but have their own niche as well.
''We have to be a jack of all trades. It's a benefit to officers who come through here that they don't get pigeonholed,'' he said.
Jagunic is a Cortland resident. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.