WBTV On Assignment: SWORN – Life in Uniform

WBTV On Assignment: SWORN – Life in Uniform

CHARLOTTE, NC (WBTV) - WBTV followed the lives of three different law enforcement officers from different walks of life at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, Salisbury Police Department and the Cleveland County Sheriff's Office.

Officer Chase Suddreth

It's 5:30 in the morning. Chase Suddreth stands in his kitchen making coffee, the only thing that keeps him moving these days. He works first shift as a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Officer. The early call time has always been tough, but especially since his first child was born a few months ago.

"We try to sleep whenever she's napping," he said. "Some nights are good; some nights are bad. It's really unpredictable."

Chase has spent his whole law enforcement career as a patrol officer in the Metro Division. He's a people person, so the job was a natural fit.

"I like helping other people. As cliché as that sounds, but you really can. And not every situation needs to end in an arrest. Sometimes people just want somebody to talk to them and you spending thirty minutes with them can make their day," he said.

Many of Chase's calls are to sort of family or mental health issues.

"Not every day are we out here on police chases and foot chases. It happens. But it's not an everyday type thing. Most of it can be like social work," he said.

A few hours into his shift, a call goes out over the radio describing a man lying face down in the grass outside a church. When he pulls up, he finds a man who's had too much to drink and it doesn't take long for him to open up to Chase, detailing abuse that led to a 20 year battle with alcoholism.

Through tears, the man tells the officer he's just met that he's not a bad person, he's just struggling.

Chase tells him he'll take him anywhere he needs to go. But before the stranger gets out of his patrol car, the 31-year-old officer says he'll be praying for him.

"It's important for people to realize we're here to help folks. It's important for people to realize most of the time we're doing the right thing, we're helping people," he said.

According to the Pew Research Center, 86% of officers say high-profile incidents between police and African-Americans have made their job more difficult. The same study found 76% admitting they were more reluctant to use force when appropriate because of those incidents.

Chase has never fired his gun on the job and he hopes to keep it that way.

"Sometimes we don't even have a second. We have a fraction of that and so your decision within seconds can have lifelong consequences. Positive or negative," he said. "If I don't act properly, there could be a funeral."

The Pew study found 67% of officers said fatal police/black encounters are isolated incidents. But 60 % of the public believes they point to a bigger problem.

"I think things will get better here in Charlotte, obviously we can't control how things happen in other cities, we can only control what happens here in Charlotte and it's our viewpoint here in Charlotte to be transparent and build partnerships with community members," he said.

Chase's girlfriend is a CMPD sergeant. They both admit they think about their safety more since becoming parents for the first time.

"You definitely take an extra step to think before you make any reactions. Not to make any quick reactions. I want to be able to watch her grow up. I want her to know her dad," he said.

"I wanted to become a police officer, I wanted to make a change in my community. I wanted to make a change in the world. My big motto is 'Be the change you want to see.' So I figured why not be a police officer."

Officer Isaac Miller

Up I-85, at Henderson Independent High School in Salisbury, Isaac Miller is always doing something. He's the School Resource Officer assigned to the alternative school.

"Most days are pretty tough. Just dealing with students who don't want to be here," Isaac said.

But that doesn't mean Isaac doesn't enjoy his job. He loves it. And his students love him. Maybe because he's relatable.

"We come from the same type of backgrounds, have the same type of lifestyles. They just don't realize that, but I try to show them the human side to policing and the human side to me that I am a person like they are," he said.

To Isaac, his job isn't just about enforcing, but also being someone students trust to talk to.

"Sometimes during downtime, I'll go in the classroom and shoot the breeze with the kids and we'll talk about things. They come from not the best homes and they just want to be heard," he said.

The Pew Research Center study found 79% of officers said they have been thanked for their service in the months prior to being surveyed. But also during that time, two-thirds say they have been verbally abused by a member of their community.

Isaac is well-aware he hasn't chosen the most popular profession now.

"It makes me sad seeing how police officers are viewed. When I was younger, we admired police officers. Now, we're viewed as the bad guys and I'd like to go out and show the young people that not all police officers are bad," he said.

But Isaac is also well-aware his position is just for show. In 2016 and 2017, there were 50 active shooter incidents in the US designated by the FBI. In those, 22 people were killed and 722 were wounded. Isaac knows he always has to be ready if a threat were to present itself.

"We all know when we put our uniform on every day that that's a possibility of us having to engage someone such as an active shooter. And that's just something we're trained to handle," he said.

Isaac's wife, Joca, supported her husband when he decided to leave his job as a corrections officer to join the Salisbury Police Department.

"I had never seen him so passionate about anything," she said.

But she still worries.

"At times I get scared to think if it's really worth it for him to continue doing this because people don't seem to value what police officers do. So it really messes with your emotions. But I know God's got him," Joca said. "I wish they could see them as people and not as police officers."

While Isaac works Monday through Friday at school, he often picks up overtime patrol shifts on the weekends. The Millers have been trying to start a family, but have been told it won't happen naturally.

"He's been working hard to save money so we can get some fertility help," Joca said.

Sometimes, Isaac works seven days a week.

"I would hope in the next five years we'll have a family, one or two kids," she said.

Deputy Christy Clark

It's the Saturday before Mother's Day in Shelby. Christy Clark sits in a booth at the local pizza place surrounded by her three daughters.

Mom isn't her only title, Christy has served as a Cleveland County Sheriff's Deputy for eight years. Since she'll be working the overnight shift, they're squeezing a quick Mother's Day dinner before she heads to work.

Her daughters are as proud as can be of their mom.

"Some people don't know my mom is a cop and I hear a lot of negative stuff about it… She's working to help them and they don't understand that. Like, when it comes down to it if something happened to one of their family members, they would want her to be there," 16-year-old Brooklyn said.

Along with being a mom and a deputy, Christy also works a part-time job.

"I wish they knew the sacrifice that my mom makes, like her time and she takes that risk for others and I just wish people knew that," 12-year-old Kayleigh said.

After a quick dinner, Christy heads in to start her shift at 6:30. She'll be on patrol for 12 hours.

"I became a deputy sheriff because I love people. It's as simple as that. I love dealing with people and trying to help in any way that I can," Christy said.

She's only been back on patrol for seven months. Christy was a detective with the Criminal Investigations Division for five years.

"I wanted to be the best. I wanted to do a great job. I wanted to do right by my victims. I wanted to make sure their cases were being worked like they should. Like I would want my case to be worked if I were a victim. That led to long hours and a lot of additional stress," she said.

While she would try to leave work at work, Christy admits that was nearly impossible. And her girls, ages 16, 12 and 11 started to notice.

"I felt my girls had sacrificed, given years of their life in order to support me. And they're growing rapidly, and I felt like I was missing a part of their life and that's not fair to them," Christy said.

She loved being a detective. But Christy asked to be transferred back to patrol.

"Being a patrol deputy, you're everything. You're a narcotics investigator, you're a criminal investigator, you are a school resource officer. You're everything all under one blanket and it's exciting," she said.

According to the National Center for Women and Policing, females make up only 13% of law enforcement in the United States.

"I feel like as a female, I bring something different to the table. I don't get the same response from the public as males do. Maybe because they don't see me as being intimidating or as a threat," she said.

But Christy admits some have overlooked her capabilities because of her gender. She shrugs it off.

"Of course you're going to have some males that are old school and believe that a female has no place in law enforcement, That this is a man's job and to that, I say, to each his own. You're entitled to your opinion. I'm no less capable of doing my job than any male I work with," Christy said.

Christy works the overnight shift and often responds to calls alone. She believes her job has gotten more dangerous in recent years.

"Every day I turn on the news or social media and another officer has gotten shot," she said.

So far in 2018, there have been 28 gun-related officer deaths. According to the National Law Enforcement Memorial, that's a 56% increase from last year.

Christy was friends with Shelby Police Officer Tim Brackeen. He was shot and killed in the line of duty in 2016.

"It broke my heart that somebody would take him away over something so senseless. And it left a mark on all of us that won't be forgotten," she said.

So with three beautiful daughters at home, is her career worth the risk? Without skipping a beat, Christy answered yes.

"Anybody who knows me knows how I feel about it. I'm aware that that is a possibility each and every day."

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