Award-winning Colorado officer overcame challenges that inspired career
By Dan Campana
He grew up amid chaos in a broken home.
Sterling Police Corporal Michael Hart’s parents abused drugs and even dealt, which meant he had early encounters with law enforcement.
“My interactions with the police as a kid never seemed bad to me. However, the circumstances were.” Hart explained. “I was at my father’s house for a drug raid where they came in SWAT style from windows and even the upstairs balcony. I have personal experience growing up around drug use and saw what it does to destroy families.”
Such moments – and how he overcame them with the help of many people and social services in his community – eventually put Hart on path to find a job he enjoyed that could have a positive impact on others.
“I have had many examples of what not to do and have had to be observant and learn from the mistakes of others. Growing up in such a chaotic hectic way has made me want to help others in the same situation,” Hart said. “I think this has helped me have a unique view and create a better understanding of people over all. Having lived through it helps me to not just show empathy, but to be an example that we have a choice to make life better and to make better choices for our lives.”
He’s done just that in six years as a police officer. Hart started with the Colorado State Patrol, but moved on after a year because he didn’t feel connected to a particular community. Since 2013, he’s served Sterling in a variety of roles – from enforcing the law to connecting with residents, especially children, through programs he’s helped grow – that recently earned him the department’s Officer of the Year award.
“I work hard and take the trust granted to me very seriously. I am honored to be recognized by my fellow officers, my chief and my community. I work to be engaged with the community that I serve, to help build many positive relationships within the community,” Hart explained. “I do take pride in the many enriching programs I’m able to be part of. To hear that my efforts are not over looked, but respected, is an incredible feeling.”
Assigned to the patrol division, his primary role is as a road supervisor, and he is the department’s accident re-constructionist. He also mentors newer officers as a field training officer.
“This is something I enjoy as I work to instill (in the officers) respect and understanding of the importance of their job. I try to build an understanding that what we do greatly affects people’s lives – and we need to take that responsibility very seriously,” Hart offered. “As one of my trainees recently wrote about me in my … evaluation, I ‘have a foundation of morality that directly affected (my) style of policing. You could tell he became very vested in his cases.’”
Hart’s investment in the community is obvious in a program in which he goes to elementary schools to teach safety topics and introduces students to police officers. Hart takes part in a youth organization focused on steering kids away from tobacco; organizes and participates in bike rodeos; and even took on the task of collecting money which eventually made it possible for him to give out hundreds of bike helmets to children.
“I found it to be a great conversation starter. When I saw kids out in front of their houses, I’d stop, introduce myself and talk to them about bicycle safety. At the third annual bike to school day, it was great to see how many kids showed up and how many were wearing the helmets I had given them. It’s a great feeling,” Hart recalled.
He continued, “As a kid growing up I had to depend on different members of my community to survive, including neighbors to take me to church, and teachers and schools to provide stability and public services. The community I live in is one with lower incomes. At times, I see myself in many of the kids I interact with.”
Hart then quoted from the Dr. Seuss movie, “The Lorax,” to sum up the big picture: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”
That’s why Hart cares to the depths he does every day, every shift, every call.
“We need to understand that because, for us, it is just another call, for the people we contact, it is everything. We cannot let this call be just another call, because this job is not just another job. When we fail to do our job, people can get hurt; small issues can become catastrophic,” he explained. “We truly are the line between peace and chaos. We need to not judge people; to have an understanding that we may be there on the worst day of someone’s life; and to understand that small interactions may have a greater impact then we can know.”
The badge Hart wears signifies to him that he is part of a family with an undeniably important purpose on the public, professional and personal levels.
“The vast majority of those who wear the badge live by a higher standard. I have grown to have more respect for the officers that are doing it right,” he said. “The fact is most are, and then to see those that go even beyond the status of what is expected helps me to see that super heroes are real.
“Every day, officers are making a difference in the communities we serve, and I take pride in being a part that,” Hart added.
Read the entire 50 Badges series here.