A dying legacy? Police families describe modern challenges of life on the beat

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — As a young lad, Tim Perry remembers watching “Hill Street Blues” with his dad.

“And maybe mentioning that this is what law enforcement is like,” the now detective recalled. “It’s an old memory of mine and that’s kinda what pushed me.”

It pushed him into his father’s footsteps.

Retired Sgt. Jon Perry joined the Kansas City Police Department in 1968. His son joined as a civilian in 1992 because he was too young for the academy. Eventually, he became a sworn officer and was on patrol for 17 years before being promoted to detective.

“I don’t know. It could really have gone either way,” Jon said about his role in his son’s career choice.

“Law enforcement is just something I wanted to do,” said Tim, who added he never really thought about anything else.

But in spite of the role his father’s career played on his choice, Tim, now a detective in the Missing Persons/Cold Case Unit, doesn’t want his three kids to follow in his footsteps.

“Images you see on media nowadays and how they see law enforcement being portrayed, it’s just not, in my view — it’s not worth it for them,” he said.

Those images include protests that turn violent (see Ferguson) and threats against police. Both father and son agree that it makes life on the streets as a cop more dangerous than ever.

“We get 50 police officers killed, and we never hear anything about that,” said Jon, now a detective in Camden County, Missouri. “It’s just one sided. We’re the bad guys. The police are the bad guys.”

KCPD doesn’t keep specific records of legacies within the department. A spokesman believes there are about 30 working for the department now. But the chairman of the department’s Historical Board believes the trend of legacies is down, thanks in part to the concerns raised by the Perrys.

“If you went around in a random poll, you asked officers serving if they want their son or daughter to serve, I think a lot of them would say no,” Capt. Chris Sicoli said.

In fact, he believes it’s leading to a drop in recruits period.

“When I tested, I tested with 300 people,” Sicoli recalled. “We’re lucky to get 80 or 90 in the door to do a test.”

The disadvantage, he said, is that legacy officers have a leg up on police work because they grew up around the job, its demands, its stress and its rewards.

Sicoli believes police departments need to do a better job telling their own story, rather than letting a national narrative play out. He cited KCPD’s use of social media as an example, and that it’s improving by showing the positives to police work and service.

Even so, at least for now, Tim Perry said he’d prefer his kids go to college. But what if they really do want to follow in Dad’s footsteps?

“We’ll talk about it. Get your degree first,” he said. “Something other than criminal justice.”

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