By DEB ENRIGHT
Full disclosure disclaimer right up front: there are few people you will meet in your journey whose devotion, focus, and character for their work leave you breathless – at a point where you just feel good about what they are doing and wishing you could craft some way to share more time with them serving.
Well, on September 11th of this year, I met one of those few people I’ll know in my life and her name is Chief Deb Faulkner of the Franklin Police Department.
The day was overcast. I walked up to the police department building on Columbia Avenue with American flags larger than most homes waving proudly with the help of two hook and ladder firetrucks. A solemn tradition-filled ceremony crafted by the Chief was in progress. Franklin’s Mayor, Ken Moore, and other city officials were there to commemorate the 10th anniversary of that devastating day.
A day when I ran to the neighborhood elementary school to get Casey, a first grader at the time, and bring her home after an F15 fighter jet had flown what seemed like inches from the roof of our home which stood less than 10 miles from Dulles airport. It was the day that our home went up for sale to move to Nashville. The city from which my husband Jim tried frantically to get a call through to me and could not until the afternoon. It was the day the Pentagon, a building I had driven by my entire life to get into “town” from my family home in Arlington, bore the brunt of the attack for the nation’s capital.
And in Franklin, Tennessee, the Chief of Police made it a priority after a decade to honor the first responders of both police and firefighters who had so willingly run towards the Towers and the Pentagon that fateful day.
But all of this makes sense because as she welcomed me into her office after the ceremony and she took her place behind her desk, she looked at me and said, “You see, first and foremost, we are in the caring business.”
“Our biggest issue is finding or being called to help people who are at a breaking point in their life,” she continues. ‘They are having the worst day in their life. They just need some help and we hope to stop a crisis from happening. And the police are here to help. Maybe change a tire for a mom with a carload of kids or help wash a car with a gentleman in a wheelchair who is using a power washer to get the job.”
“Compassion is a necessary attribute to serve on the Franklin force, but if you are here to cause trouble or harm one of our citizens, we don’t want you here. We have a zero tolerance for folks who don’t follow the law. You break a law in Franklin, expect to be arrested and taken to jail. We don’t tolerate that kind of behavior. There will be repercussions. We will hold you to the letter of the law. We will keep this community safe.”
Chief tells me she chose to serve in Franklin because of the silent heroes in this community. She tells me of the many occasions a family in Franklin will be in need and organizations like the Rotary will quietly help the family whether its rebuilding a home, paying for college, or helping someone get back up on their feet to provide for the family once again.
That caring extends to her own force. The men and women of the Department receive the same dedication and treatment the armed forces got under General Schwarzkopf during the Persian Gulf War. “He is one of my leadership heroes’, she begins. ‘He took care of his soldiers and put their safety first. I strive to do that with every new training program and equipment acquisition I approve. If the men and women who give of their lives everyday don’t feel appreciated and well served from those in command, how can I possibly ask them to work hard to serve our citizens in the best way possible?”
The Chief understands the power of identity in building close bonds within the ranks of the department. She had a new shield created just for the department that includes a depiction of the brand-new Franklin police department building. “While we serve with our brothers and sisters throughout the Middle Tennessee area and beyond, we are uniquely Franklin’s and I wanted to show that on every uniform.
There is this intensity to her as we sit and talk. She tells me she dreamed of going into broadcasting at a time when few women were breaking into that field. A history major from MTSU, she had a way with connecting with people and found one of her early jobs after graduation at the Grand Old Opry. While there, a few friends convinced her to apply for a position in the Metro Police Department.
“I got the job. There were two women in the entire police department and I thought, Well, now what? I knew it was the right fit, but it wasn’t easy. Of course,’, she pauses and smiles, ‘nothing worth having is easy.”
She tells me that every advancement she achieved was due to her performance not because she was a woman. She says it with a pride that never borders on boasting.
The Chief is an innovative leader looking for ways to connect with the community and increase the capacity of the department to serve. She instituted a chaplain program. There is now a collection of Franklin clergy on call to the police department to help in a situation when called upon. In one instance, a police officer found a family new to town who did not and could not afford any food, he called one of these chaplains – One Generation Away’s Chris Whitney – and the family received a trunkful of food courtesy of this new outreach program. And yes, it was the Franklin Police Department giving away glow stick on Halloween to keep the kids safe and let them know the police care about them.
“That is really important for our community to understand’, the Chief begins. ‘We understand that sometimes folks just need help and don’t know where to turn before they make the first wrong decision that has us meeting under very different circumstances. And we want everyone to know – and that goes for the teenagers – that they can come to us if there is no one else to turn to at home. It’s the reason I started the teen program introducing a small group of students to police work through getting to know how our department works. It is fashioned after our very successful Citizens’ Police Academy. Kids might see police work as a possible career and possibly tell their friends that we aren’t so bad, and we are only here to keep folks safe and they can lean on us if they do not know where else to go.”
And with the rise in CEOs, high profile celebrities, and high level elected officials showing up more and more in Franklin, she provided a dignitary training program to be sure these individuals and their families remain safe while enjoying Franklin and the surrounding area.
I asked her what she looked for in recruits. Her response was thoughtful and lightning fast, “I look for high energy, an intensity about law enforcement and the role it plays in the criminal justice system, a belief that all must be done for the good of the community, a love for helping people, and a commitment to protecting the rights of everyone. I can’t teach that in basic training. All of that has to be in the person before they even apply to work with us.”
The Chief knows that good can come out of a bad situation and this story shows the compassion and belief she has in people and why she is so good at what she does.
A few years ago, as the Chair of the YWCA, she helped put on a big event that honored a woman who had started down a wrong path, but righted her course and was living the life she was intended to live. That year’s honoree had been arrested, imprisoned, had to start life over, and did with great success. The Chief arrived at the event and the YWCA staff was nervous saying the honoree wanted to speak with her before the evening started because when working on patrol in Metro, the Chief had arrested this woman and two men travelling together in a car.
The Chief saw no problem with having the conversation. They met, and the woman told her how grateful she was for that day of the arrest. “She told me I had saved her life. That the arrest was the day her new life had begun. That story is a blessing for all of us’, the Chief says.
It’s difficult to end this conversation with Chief Faulkner. I have a new hero. She has three priorities that guide her life as she lives her passion of serving others so that the community can it be all it is meant to be: Faith, Family, and the Force. And three words on the Department’s insignia to describe and guide the work of the Franklin Police: Professional, Progressive, and Responsive.
You and I know there is a lot of confusing stuff going on out there now. Bullies and villains everywhere. Those you are supposed to lean on may not deserve your trust and those who you do trust may make it very hard to lean on those who are all about creating relationships to keep all of us safe. It can be confusing for sure.
But if Chief Faulkner has anything to do with it, she will create opportunities for everyone to understand each other and reach out to help one another in time of need so that all may enjoy the community we call home.