Utah officer honored for supporting mentally ill woman in need of help
By Dan Campana
In nearly 20 years with the South Jordan Police Department, Sgt. Josh Whatcott has seemingly done just about everything possible.
Time spent working patrol, SWAT, bike patrol, juvenile, investigations, school resource officer, narcotics, accident reconstruction and community oriented policing initiatives all led up to his promotion to sergeant. Not too bad for a kid who found his law enforcement roots watching a healthy dose of the TV show “CHIPS” and playing “cops and robbers” all day everyday with his brothers.
“We’d chase each other, make siren noises, make believe we were in cop cars, catch crooks, handcuff them and even pretend to make the trip to jail,” Whatcott remembered. “It wasn’t far from the truth, I mean, after watching our father do this for years, we had it down. My father always looked the part: good-looking mustache, strong, brave, and my hero for sure.”
Whatcott landed his job with South Jordan as a 21 year old. The learning experiences began almost immediately after graduating from the academy.
“I served and helped others as much as I knew how to do at 21 years of age. The theme has always remained the same throughout my tenure: stop those bad guys from hurting the innocent and weak,” Whatcott said. “I quickly learned after a few short months on the job that I was definitely not doing this job for the money. I do it because I feel I was called to – this isn’t a job, it’s a vocation. I serve others because I want to make a difference, and I have a real sense of love for those I do help.”
Whatcott highlights his time as a detective in juvenile crime and community oriented policing for developing a love for people and defining for him the real meaning of service. He also relished his assignment working in schools during which he built positive relationships with the students and helped foster an improved connection between local youth and the department.
Reaching the rank of sergeant brought on the “most difficult, trying, but yet rewarding” portion of his career.
“I always strive to be a role model, communicate in all directions, set the ethical standards, admit to my mistakes, coach, and love those I serve,” he explained.
Whatcott’s service to his colleagues and the public earned him the department’s Distinguished Service Medal. The honor cited his creation of a peer support team for his fellow officers which assists them in a variety of ways, including after critical incidents.
He also received the recognition for his efforts to intervene in the life of a woman with behavioral health issues. According to the department, the woman made approximately 100 calls for service last year, which prompted Whatcott to collaborate with local mental health agencies and the woman’s family to develop a plan to get her the help she needed.
The approach worked, as the woman’s calls to the department have stopped.
“After working on this case not just as a police officer, but as a human, I asked the female involved what is it that worked? What would you like other officers to know in this case? How can we help others that may be in similar situations?” Whatcott explained. “She had this response, ‘The only positive interaction I had was with you. I took a liking to you and somewhat trusted you over all the other officers, and I believe it’s because I could see and feel your genuine concern for me.
“This case will always have a lasting impression on my heart. I still see her every few weeks at her home for coffee. Indeed, it’s an example of what comes through service and love for others,” he added.
Whatcott credits his parents for him becoming the service-minded person he is today. His mother showed him how to be a kind, caring person with genuine and loving qualities. His father taught him accountability, responsibility and how to do the job the right way.
“Although stern at times, I always knew how much he loved me,” Whatcott offered.
At this stage of his career, Whatcott finds fulfillment from exuding loving behavior – something he believes goes hand-in-hand with community policing.
“I look back on my career and see the many times I held a child while crying, provided a smile, shook a hand or offered support through tough times. All of these events helped better people’s lives and created a favorable impression with police,” Whatcott explained. “I open my heart and approach others with the desire to learn and understand. It is through this good behavior that contributes to peace of mind and opens the door to solving problems.”
What the badge means to Whatcott hasn’t changed much over the years. It always represented trust, character, honor and integrity – among other qualities – but, today, it also stands for a high standard of service that includes empathy and compassion for others.
With that in mind, Whatcott offers simple advice to his police peers.
“Respond to every call with the idea of making this policing experience positive. Remember everyone you deal with is a human – we all deserve to be treated as such,” he shared. “Building trust internally and externally is the key to policing. Love those you serve and be thankful you’ve been provided an opportunity to have an impact on the community.”
Read the entire 50 Badges series here.