Kelly Smith's Mission as a Police Officer
JACKSONVILLE -- February 25, 2002 -- Kelly Smith grew up with drug-addicted parents. And she would have never guessed she would become a police officer, the one profession she detested. She is one of the many women who serve their communities as police officers.
Smith completed the Northeast Alabama Police Academy and is now pursuing a degree in accounting at Jacksonville State University. And the 25-year-old Gadsden police officer can picture herself doing nothing else. She loves her job. Her parents are now in prison, but Smith attends college while working full time.
"Everyone wants to feel sorry for me, but they shouldn't," she says. "If I hadn't grown up like that, I might have ended up like that, too."
And she doesn't want to see anyone else grow up like that either. She has a supply of teddy bears in the back seat of her patrol car ready to give to any child she comes in contact with. Assigned to the traffic beat, she often works wrecks kids are involved in. It's in the lives of kids she most hopes to make a difference.
Her favorite part of the job is being a Drug Abuse Resistance Education officer, which puts her working with kids regularly. She also is certified to teach rape prevention classes and recently certified as a traffic fatality investigator. She has learned that she has to separate herself from the tragedy she encounters through her job.
"I cannot take it personally," she says.
And she has no tolerance for older kids who use their environment as an excuse for their actions. Her success is a perfect example that a bad environment does not necessarily mean failure.
While on patrol, Smith is quick to respond to a fellow officer's call for assistance. She is forceful, but not rough, as she explains to a woman why she is being searched. And it's women who usually are more resistant to Smith, and men typically tend to show her more respect. Some of that respect might be linked to her backup.
"It might be who they see behind me," she says. "I appreciate them backing me up. I tell them all the time I'm glad they're there. They look at me like a little sister and I appreciate that."
Smith grew up in Huntsville. Her mother was a paralegal and her father worked for a bakery company.
"The whole time I was growing up, they had normal jobs."
Smith was very young, but she remembers seeing marijuana lying around the house and knew her parents did drugs. She said her father probably used cocaine, but both her parents were addicted to prescription drugs. She was about six when she first realized the actions of her parents were wrong.
"I knew my mother wasn't like other mothers," she says. "I had a wild childhood. I remember Daddy shooting into a house and I remember us getting stopped by police and he told us to lie about it."
When she was 12 years old, she moved with her mother to Etowah County. Smith, her mother and younger brother were getting away from her abusive father. But he soon followed with promises to change.
"I never understood why she stayed with him, but he had her addicted to drugs," Smith says. "It was a classic example of domestic abuse."
Her mother's prison sentence probably has saved her life. "I never knew my mother when she wasn't on drugs until she went to prison. I feel if she hadn't been sent up there, she'd be dead now."
Smith's mother went through an 18-month drug rehabilitation program and now tutors while at Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women. It was drugs that led to the convictions of both Smith's parents for attempted murder in 1995. The man whom Smith's father attempted to kill testified that he was shot because her father owed him money. And her mother was convicted because she was there.
"I always wanted to be the complete opposite of my dad," Smith says. That is why she strives so hard to succeed in life.
Her brothers had the same desire to escape that life. Her younger brother, who has lived with her since her parents were sent to prison, is completing college and about to enter medical school. One of her older brothers is completing medical school and the other has two engineering degrees and a successful job.
To get on with her life, Smith has had to forgive her father, but she cannot forget. She graduated from Southside High School and got married at 19. She went to work at a check-cashing business and there she came in contact with a lot of police officers because th job sometimes placed her in contact with those who broke the law.
She also began to see that all police officers were not bad, and the job might be her best shot at achieving her main goals--to make a difference in the lives of children. She applied for a job at the police department, and she got the job. She is now pursuing an accounting degree at JSU and is considering law school after that. But that doesn't mean she plans to change her career.
"I just want to be able to have a degree," she says. "I feel like I was called for this job," she said. "I think my purpose in life is to work here."
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