John DiGirolamo is an author and ex-CPA. The county includes Chaffee County in Colorado. With a population of less than 22,000, it houses three cities: Salida, (pop. 6,082; Buenavista (pop. 6,082), Buena Vista (pop. 956). You will find that people in these small communities know you by name.
DiGirolamo’s daughter Megan is a peace officer in the community of Buena Vista (Coloradans pronounce it “Bew-na” Vista), and during the school year, Megan is the resource officer for the three town schools, elementary, junior high, and high school.
Officer DiGirolamo’s adventures and struggles in small town law enforcement was part of the inspiration behind John DiGirolamo’s book, It’s Not About The Badge: Real Cops. Their stories are real. They are the JourneyThis book documents the stories and unique roles of six police officers in small towns.
“My daughter is a police officer, so I think I’ve got a, you know, kind of a unique approach to this where I can think about it as an average citizen does,” he stated.
“But I can also think about it from the police perspective, ’cause I hear stories and kind of what goes on from her.”
DiGirolamo spoke about the unrest and riots in 2020 George Floyd and also the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which was the second reason he felt compelled to write this book.
“I think we’re definitely seeing the effects of the ‘defund the police movement.’ Crime is up in in just about every major city in the country,” he said.
“But my book really tries to focus on the human side of policing, especially with small town police officers. I think they have the least amount of a voice.”
As DiGirolamo’s daughter and the other five officers present in the book, a rural peace officer’s day can go from assessing a local who is mounting a scratch business on the sidewalk, to a dangerous shootout with someone high on drugs.
Other than the TV series COPS, much of the entertainment and legacy media ignores this specialized aspect of policing, and often treats small town police officers either as a side note, or like “Barney Fife”: all stumbles, bumbles, and inefficiency.
“I wanted to focus on kind of those small-town people who are really sort of the backbone of America’s police force, because you don’t hear from them, yet they do a lot of the work,” DiGirolamo said.
“Their work is just as dangerous as big cities, because they may be out in the county on a 911 call, and back up might be 20 minutes away, which is a lifetime, given how events can unfold.”
Rural officers can patrol their towns on their own after they have been trained by a senior officer. The officers do not usually have a partner.
“So, to me, it’s just as dangerous as other big cities,” DiGirolamo said.
Rural officers often patrol alone so backup can be more than 20 minutes away. These officers must be alert and on the ball in rural areas. The officers have a good knowledge of their surroundings and are trained to respond in emergency situations.
Although small-scale community police can be riskier, the rewards are often more rewarding. This makes them a part of their community. Contrary to big-city policing where officers are not seen as welcome and feared, rural cops can be seen with their families shopping at the supermarket, attending community events or at Sunday church.
DiGirolamo wanted to highlight these instances where belonging in the community can make a significant difference in officers’ lives and in their work as policing officers. DiGirolamo’s book succeeded in humanizing the officers and giving readers a glimpse into their private and public lives.
“I think the point of my book is to really give people the perspective that these are real people with real issues, you know? These are real life situations.
“It’s not all policing. There’s a story of a marriage proposal. There’s a story about adopting a child, things like that,” he said.
DiGirolamo’s experience with these officers, their stories and the lessons they shared is another: The instinct to serve or protect seems to have been a natural trait.
“I asked the question once, ‘Well, why don’t, you know, why are any of them working as a police officer?’ The answer, I think, is because it’s really kind of built into their DNA,” DiGirolamo said.
“Many of the officers talked about as a young child, this desire to help people, especially those that are vulnerable. It was almost as though it were. Similar to a calling: to, you know, help protect, and stop crime.”
The majority of officers mentioned in the book were Christians. DiGirolamo was unsure if this was deliberate. He also explained how his faith relates to law enforcement.
“They did talk about that, and how their faith was really helping them,” he said.
“Especially last year, when, you know, the police were vilified so much. They had natural thoughts about, I believe. why am I doing this when I’m just getting beat up in the media every day? It was already a tough, sort of thankless job, and now I’m even less appreciated
“I think that, you know, their faith in Christ really helped.”
In terms of the state of law enforcement nationwide, DiGirolamo is heartened by his daughter’s experiences as a resource officer, which allows her to be an example for young people, as well as the community.
“Yeah, I think as everybody gets to know each other better, tensions will go down, and the only way to do that is really sort of, ‘feet on the street’ or in the schools, in the community. You know, getting to know them,” he said.
“It’s like, you could easily be very mean on your computer with a nameless faceless person on the other side of Facebook, but if you actually talk to them in the same room, it probably ends better.”
You can find my complete interview with John DiGirolamo on the Red Beans & Fried Rice PodcastClick here.
DiGirolamo’s book, It’s Not About the Badge, is available on Amazon.com, or you can purchase a signed copy from the book’s website.