Chris Mullis never puts on his Thomson Police Department uniform without his bulletproof vest and his uncle’s small, gold St. Christopher pendant.
One year after graduating from Augusta Technical College’s Peace Officers Training Academy, Mullis still remembers his professor, Eric Snowberger, adding names to his list of officers who died in the line of duty during their 18-week course. Richmond County sheriff’s Deputy James “J.D.” Paugh joined that wall just days before Mullis graduated.
“You always think those things happen in other places,” he said. “But when it happened here, we all realized how real it was.”
Mullis, 27, and another Thomson rookie, Officer Matt Hammond, 36, have been on the force for one year.
Hammond, a former military police officer, was slightly more prepared for life on the streets, he said. He is also a police dog trainer of many years, and he was able to bring in his own dog, 2-year-old Fidgy.
At age 14, his father’s friend, the sheriff and police dog trainer in Junction City, Ore., sent a dog flying at him with teeth bared. Ever since, Hammond has been determined to stay involved with training the animals.
“You don’t forget the first time a dog comes at you,” he said, explaining that the sheriff had given him a protective sleeve for training purposes.
Hammond said Fidgy has been instrumental in several drug busts.
Unlike his fellow rookie, Mullis pulled his gun on someone for the first time this year, an experience he has a hard time explaining.
“You can’t put it into words, but you never forget it,” he said. “Pulling your weapon on someone is a whole different ball game.”
Mullis comes from a long line of Thomson firefighters. His grandfather was an assistant fire chief, and his father was the first fire investigator. It was never a question for him whether he was going to be in public safety; it was just a matter of in what capacity.
“I told my granddad, even firemen need a hero, and those are police officers,” Mullis said. “He doesn’t like it when I say that.”
Because he was born and raised in Thomson, Mullis has been faced with some challenges. After having to arrest a childhood buddy, he said his friends learned he wasn’t going to be lenient.
“We have to follow the law,” he said. “People who aren’t in law enforcement sometimes don’t understand.”
For Hammond, the big difference he has seen since moving from the military and federal side is the amount of education required. He said that as a military police officer, he was taught just enough to be dangerous. In Snowberger’s class, Hammond learned how to be a community officer. He was taught the value of counseling a battered woman and how to calm an irate man without engaging him.
“I learned how to talk on the civilian side,” he said.
Mullis and Hammond agreed the most perilous moment on the job so far has been issuing warrants, a situation that is always partially unknown.
“If you aren’t scared, you aren’t doing the job right,” Mullis said. “Being scared makes you pay more attention.”
Hammond said the best part of being an officer has been riding with his best friend every day, his Belgian Malinois who discovered drugs on her very first call.
“She’s a great partner,” he said. “She’s smart. She’s very smart.”