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All That I Am


From Cop to Servant

by Bonnie Price Lofton

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On Sept. 8, 2007, Thaddeus Hicks was handing out bottles of water and sandwiches from a Salvation Army mobile canteen in downtown Atlanta.

A soldier (member) of The Salvation Army, Thad had just handed a water bottle to a man on a bike when a pickup truck hit the man and ran him over.

Thad quickly checked that the man was responsive. Then he took off at a dead run after the hit–and–run driver, who headed into a dead–end street, then backed up and tried to come back out.

Thad jumped onto the driver’s–side running board, reached through the open window, threw the gearshift into park, and pulled the keys out of the ignition. Then he dragged the man out of the truck, pushed him into a spread–eagle stance against the hood, and began frisking him.

When local police arrived, they were astonished to find a drunken hit–and–run suspect in the custody of a 6–foot, 6–inch, 295–pound man in a Salvation Army uniform.

The officers didn’t realize that they were dealing with an eight–year veteran of policing.

Turning to peacebuilding

“I used to be a cop’s cop,” says Thad. “When that man got run over in front of me, my old instincts kicked in, … and I really forgot I was no longer a police officer.”

At the time, Thad Hicks was not only no longer a cop, he was also a graduate student in conflict transformation at Eastern Mennonite University’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding in Harrisonburg, Va. At the end of June, he had married fellow graduate student Marie–Jose Tayah from Lebanon; she had only recently become a soldier of The Salvation Army too and had gone with him to Atlanta to learn more about the Army at Future Officers Fellowship.

A cop’s cop

Thad’s vocational journey began in his family, where several of the men were police officers. He earned a bachelor’s degree in criminology before becoming a police officer in Mansfield, Ohio.

Thad’s large, muscular build and no–nonsense demeanor fits many people’s image of an effective cop.

“I wasn’t a hippie policeman; I liked wrestling and kicking in doors. I could talk to people in a way that would make them shudder,” Thad says.

Thad enjoyed police work his first five or so years on the job. He thought the law enforcement system was working well.

“I figured that offenders had forfeited some of their rights when they committed [criminal] acts. I went home after an eight–hour shift and slept fine.

“But something inside of me didn’t like what I was becoming,” he adds. “Society needs police officers, but the job will chew you up and spit you out. You have to harden yourself to it.

“Every cop I knew was divorced. The offense rates for cops’ kids are much higher than for [kids of parents in] other professions. I think it’s because cops begin to treat everyone alike—like everyone is out to get them, even their wives and kids.”

Leading double life

Without quite knowing why, Thad started attending church for the first time since joining the police force. And it wasn’t just any church. He ended up at one that was deeply involved in helping the homeless and needy.

Thad found himself breaking up fights as a uniformed officer at 2 a.m., then—after getting off work and changing into civilian clothes—serving coffee and a meal to some of the same people. Often, they would look at Thad with a puzzled expression, trying to place why he looked familiar, but rarely would anyone connect Hicks–the– Samaritan with Hicks–the–enforcer.

“These men and women could not feed their families; they couldn’t find a job or a place to live,” Thad says. “This really caused me to start thinking. I realized there had to be something more to what I did. I can see now that I started working with the homeless and needy to try to pay penance for what I was doing to them during my shift at the police department.”

Thad felt troubled that he had taken an oath to protect and serve all the citizens of his city, yet he was not protecting and serving the most vulnerable.

“I would arrest someone, and they would go to jail for a few nights, and then they would be back out. They were not being rehabilitated. They were not getting better. It wouldn’t be long before they re–offended, and the cycle would continue.”

Restorative justice

Searching for answers, Thad signed up for a September 2005 trip to Colombia in South America with Christian Peacemaker Teams. Through contacts there, he learned about the EMU program, which had a new approach to crime called “restorative justice.”

Restorative justice encourages offenders to be accountable by increasing their awareness of the harm they have done to their victims and encouraging them to “put things right” as much as possible. Restorative justice also embraces the positive roles that family and community members can play.

By the fall of 2006, Thad was enrolled in the master’s program. And he had started working at a local Salvation Army.

“I was not an instant convert to restorative justice,” Thad says. “It took some time to clean out eight years of indoctrination.”

Thad hopes to take on the challenge of introducing restorative justice to police forces, perhaps even doing something in his wife’s home country of Lebanon. And he’s been trying to see how the process can apply to his work with the homeless at the Army.

Meanwhile, he has planned an offender re–entry program for The Salvation Army to help offenders make the transition from living in prison to living as law–abiding community members. The program includes life skills training, such as making and sticking to a household budget and preparing for a job interview. It also includes a bank of contacts, particularly employers and landlords willing to give offenders a chance to succeed.

Without such a re–entry program, Thad says, a person released from prison has a two–in–three chance of ending up behind bars. Re–entry assistance drastically reduces these odds, which, he points out, “translates into hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars saved on the local level alone, plus a safer community.”

Thad knows that what he has learned has changed his focus.

“If I could go back to 2005, I think I would have trouble recognizing myself,” Thad says. “It’s not that I have completely changed—to be honest, I really loved the adrenalin rush of chasing that hit–and–run driver last summer. I love policing—it excites me—but I can also step back and see that it is not good for me.”

Thad says that the founder of The Salvation Army, William Booth, pledged in a speech over 100 years ago, “while men go to prison, I’ll fight.” So it makes sense for Thad Hicks and his wife, Marie–Jose Tayah, to continue that battle.

This article originally appeared in the Winter 2007 Peacebuilder magazine. It is reprinted with adaptations by permission.