Series features first-person essays written by police officers about their work and their dedication
I have long asked myself, through both a positive and negative prism, “why I do the job.”
At times, when circumstances are not the most rewarding, I have pondered that specific question and contemplated walking away from the job. However, as certain as the sun rises each day, my perspective changes for the better through some experience, observation or other reaffirmation in the kindness of people in the community which I serve.
As cliché as it sounds, after 25 years on the job, all in the patrol division, I truly believe that I can make a difference in the lives of individuals, situations of families or the community as a whole through hard work, empathy and fairness.
I still have a sense of satisfaction in placing the “bracelets” on a domestic abuser, a thief, a drug dealer or anyone who wishes to do harm to others. As my career has evolved since 1993, I have also seen the impact of untreated mental health and substance abuse, which has significantly altered conventional policing practices. Providing services to those in need of intervention has now been a priority and, quite frankly, a satisfying endeavor knowing you made a difference, albeit sometimes temporary.
I grew up on Chicago’s southwest side in a conservative neighborhood where values were placed on family, respect for people and property, and an impetus to provide the next generation with a better way of life. With values like these, I knew a career in law enforcement was my path early on. During and after college, I worked private security, armed and unarmed, where my supervisors saw what I brought to the table and rewarded me with additional tasks of personnel management to include training of newly hired security officers and investigators.
In August 1993, I became a police officer with the Naperville Police Department. Approximately a year later, while working nights in patrol, I heard an ISPERN broadcast requesting assistance in Crest Hill where a robbery suspect shot and killed Officer Tim Simenson. This prompted my first true re-examination of my career choice. Not based on fear, but for some reason, this hit hard with respect to violence toward police and lack of respect for life and rule of law.
As time went on and I was within weeks of my marriage, I heard a news report of Chicago Police Officer Michael Ceriale being shot and killed while working surveillance on a gang-run drug operation in a housing project. This was the second time I questioned my career choice. That’s possibly because of the weight of a pending marriage, looking forward to starting a family and becoming a field training officer, where my abilities in training could make or break the future of an officer or, more importantly, keep him or her safe.
In 2000, I was selected as Naperville’s first downtown beat officer, a proactive community-policing position that allowed me to be creative in addressing the needs of merchants and property owners in our dynamic central business district. During that assignment, I received letters of praise and awards for acting as a liaison between various downtown stakeholders and city services. It allowed me to create and develop different strategies to address the specific needs of our downtown.
From 2004 to 2006, I returned to field training until my promotion to sergeant in 2006. Since that time, I have been assigned to patrol and have been serving as a field training sergeant. As a patrol sergeant, I realize my duty as a mentor and try to lead by example. I am the sergeant who arrives with the officers, develops a plan of attack when circumstances dictate, is the first through the door of a problematic call and at the forefront of confrontation when officer safety concerns are present.
My career has spanned through an era which has simultaneously encapsulated a prejudicial mood and perspective towards police that is, in my opinion, a misplaced and blanketed indictment of our profession. I became a police officer in the immediate aftermath of the Rodney King case and the Koresh/Waco incident. After my hiring, things did not cool off – including the O.J. Simpson case, mass school shootings (Columbine, Paducah, Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook, Parkland, etc.) and the high-profile incidents involving Freddie Gray (Baltimore), Michael Brown (Ferguson), Treyvon Martin (Sanford), Laquan McDonald (Chicago), and others.
One can have an opinion on the actions of an officer in a particular circumstance, but the reckless accusations without facts, injecting broad-based labels or fueling the fire for media ratings have all contributed to an environment that has somehow been allowed to build complacency about violence toward police without reason, such as the Dallas officers killed during a protest and the ambush slayings around the country of unsuspecting officers simply sitting in their squad cars. It’s hard for anyone in law enforcement, or their families, to have a consistent positive view of their fellow man; however, we persevere.
There has been a lot of attention drawn to a recent incident where I came across and saved a toddler running in traffic on a busy highway in town. For this incident, I was awarded our department’s Life Saving Award. I’m confident I didn’t do anything that any other brother or sister in uniform wouldn’t have done – the only difference was that it was caught on camera.
I am not one to be comfortable in the spotlight, being praised or receiving national media attention. However, I would be lying to you if I didn’t say it was icing on the cake of a long career that is in its final run.
As I draw closer to retirement, I’m also reminded of another incident that happened several years ago where I was first to respond to a very serious accident. Upon my arrival, a female teenage victim was in dire condition as she was unconscious and severely injured. I did what needed to be done, and she made a miraculous recovery over many months. I have grown close to her family, which has repeatedly thanked me for saving her life. Another great reward and cap off to my career will be attending her wedding later this year. This family, and the life they lead, reaffirms my belief in good, decent people who rely on law enforcement to be there in their time of need. This is why I do the job and this is why I believe in this noble career.
Naperville Police Sgt. Tony Mannino has spent 25 years working patrol in the city of Naperville. His duties within the department include serving as a field training sergeant. He recently was honored for rescuing a wayward child running alongside a busy road.