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Why I Do the Job: Arlington Heights Police Det. Adam Plawer

Series features first-person essays written by police officers about their work and their dedication

As long as I can remember I wanted to be a police officer. I grew up playing cops and robbers – or with Army guys – so there really wasn’t anything else I wanted to do.

After college, I tested for one or two police departments but my options were limited. My admiration for those in the military, especially after Sept. 11, led me to join the Illinois National Guard as a military police officer. I quickly realized I wanted to do more to challenge myself. After changing my enlistment to active duty in the Army, I went to Infantry School and Airborne School before attending Special Forces Assessment and being selected for Special Forces.

A little more than a year later, I became a Green Beret and was deployed to Pakistan and Afghanistan from 2008 to 2010 as part of the 3rd Special Forces Group. I also served as a senior communication sergeant and spent time with the 20th Special Forces Group, which was part of the Illinois National Guard. Looking back, my eight years of military service really gave me the maturity and direction I needed. In fact, I’d still be a Green Beret today if I wasn’t a police officer.

I started in law enforcement in 2012. I really enjoy the job, and I do it because someone must. If someone doesn’t like their work, they generally don’t give their best when doing it. Not me. I believe if I can make a difference in just one person’s life, then it’s worth it. I also get to work alongside like-minded people who are always willing to help you out and pick you up when you need it. I enjoy working as a team.

One way I contribute to the overall law enforcement team is by teaching other officers. It’s important to me because many of the lessons learned over the years come from those who were severely injured or made the ultimate sacrifice. I believe we need to honor those sacrifices and teach those lessons to as many officers as we can. I am fortunate to have had a lot of instructors through my military career that were really good at what they did. I imagine I have taken small parts from each of them, as well as both of my parents, to become the instructor that I am.

My training and experience as a Green Beret has also prepared me for high-stress incidents, like the one I found myself in last summer.

I had a civilian ride-along with me – a young kid who works as a security guard and wants to be a police officer someday – for an otherwise uneventful shift. It was almost over when a call went out about a crash which happened to be close to our location. He seemed interested, so I decided to go to the scene.

As soon as we arrived, I jumped out of the car to see the vehicle had crashed into a power pole and was on fire. In a torrential downpour, the power line arced between the pole and the SUV. Because the vehicle’s front and side-curtain airbags deployed, I could barely see in the passenger side window – but I noticed an unconscious woman who appeared to be trapped.

I went around to the driver side, broke the window, cut away the curtain airbag and pulled her out of the vehicle. With help of another officer, Ryan Butcher, we took her to an ambulance that had just arrived. The department cited this incident when it named me the L.W. Calderwood Officer of the Year.

The incident didn’t seem to last any longer than it did because my Green Beret background helps me stay calm in almost any situation. I briefly thought about the danger after the fact, but didn’t linger on it for too long because the outcome was positive for the woman.

This experience reaffirmed the reasons why I became a police officer. I was there for someone in their time of need, just like people have been there for me when I have needed them. Everyone needs help at some points in their life, sometimes in different degrees.

That’s why, at least the majority of the time, I just ignore the criticism of law enforcement. I believe it’s very toxic to pay attention to the negativity, and it can eat you up and potentially create negative interactions with the public we serve.

At this point in my career, there are only two critics I listen to: Myself, because I hold myself to a higher standard than anyone else. And, I also listen to my wife knowing that she will help keep me motivated and on the right path.

Arlington Heights Police Det. Adam Plawer began his law enforcement career in 2012. His duties also include working a couple of days each week as a school resource officer at the Academy at Forest View/Vanguard alternative school.  Additionally, he serves as an Instructor for the Illinois Tactical Officers Association where he teaches all aspects of Active Threat Instructor Tactics and is recognized as a Master Tactical Patrol Officer.