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Victoria police's oldest rookie takes rewarding journey (w/video)

By Bianca Montes
April 19, 2014 at 10:01 p.m.
Updated April 18, 2014 at 11:19 p.m.

Victoria Police Detective Jeff Parsons takes follow-up statements while working an incident.

The 'Pappy' file

Graduated from Police Academy No. 62 at Victoria College as salutatorian

Advanced peace officer license

Certified hostage negotiator

Certified field training officer

Certified school resource officer

Chief's letter of commendation: Nov. 16, 2007

Unit commendation letter: Oct. 16, 2009

Target and blue certificate of appreciation: March 3, 2011

Unit commendation letter: Jan. 23, 2014

It's 3 a.m., and Jeff Parsons can't shake a case.

He's been up most of the night tossing and turning as he mulls over the facts and kicks around a few scenarios on how an interrogation with a young, sassy and somewhat heated suspect may turn out.

It isn't her first time at the rodeo, he jokes - not wanting the young woman's impish ways to keep what he considers to be solid evidence from sticking.

As the early morning hours dwindle, he thinks, "How am I going to approach this?" And before the sun rises, he decides to abandon his warm, disheveled bed to pound away his worries on the treadmill.

Swearing in as an officer almost a decade ago at the age of 49, Parsons is considered the oldest rookie to join the Victoria force.

God bless Texas

Sitting at an unclad desk, Parsons logs evidence into the department's computer system. It's the same case he mulled over early in the morning, and the questions are still swarming inside his head: Will the victim's testimony hold? Did the witness tell the truth?

In an environment where most people lie to you, he said, sometimes it's hard to tell the truth.

"Jeff has a reputation around the department for being incredibly thorough in everything he does," Sgt. Chris Guerra, a Victoria Police Department spokesman, said. "He doesn't cut corners, he doesn't do anything halfway, and you'll never hear anyone have a bad thing to say about him."

Although Parsons, 57, is a family man with two children and a wife, he doesn't display pictures, drawings or a single Father's Day card on his desk. Other than a dated computer and a few supplies, it would be hard to tell who the space belonged to.

At first glance, Parsons appears to be a rigid man, an all-about-business man: freshly buzzed haircut, neatly pressed slacks, gun firmly in its holster. But if you take the time to look a little further, his personality isn't hard to find.

A lone wolf howling at the moon on the screen of his computer shows solitude, and a rugged pair of Texas-flag inspired cowboy boots peaking out from the bottom of his pants reveal his path.

"God bless Texas," he said, stretching out to show off the handsomely decorated panels of red, white and blue - shining star and all.

Land of opportunity

Parsons grew up in an impoverished part of the upper South, where he said opportunity was rare, and those working were - by far - outnumbered by those standing in the unemployment line.

"We were poor for West Virginia standards," he said, recalling how people referred to him and his neighbors as Lincoln Avenue trash.

Instead of accepting his situation, one day in 1981, he sold all of his possessions - except for his 1973 Volkswagen Beetle - and drove straight to Texas. He was 25.

"If you grow up in a place like Texas, you may not appreciate it as much," he said. "But where I grew up, you just hear things - you hear people talk about Texas. 'There's work in Texas,' they say, and you believe it's the land of opportunity."

He got a job that week.

From construction to rough-necking it in the oil fields, Parsons worked many jobs in Texas, including the role of devoted father. His now 21-year-old son was born with DiGeorge syndrome, a disorder that results in poor development of several body systems. For his son, it was a severe heart defect and a learning disability.

Parsons is proud of his son. "He's a great man."

Having a disabled son was hard, he said. It's still hard - he and his wife of 26 years really struggled that first year.

"We thought he was going to die," Parsons said about the three months they all lived in the Ronald McDonald House.

"When he was born, we agonized over it, but at that time, I read something I'll never forget. It said, 'No one gave you the choice,' and knowing that is how I deal with pressure.

"I put that pressure on myself because Ross is disabled. He is always going to depend on me, so I push myself a little harder because I have to - no one gave me a choice."

It was really a heart-breaking time, his wife, Margaret Parsons, 48, said.

"We went into it with a strong relationship," she said, "and thank God we had our relationship and our family because I look back, and I think, how did we get through that?"

As for their 16-year-old daughter, Jeff Parsons said she's another joyous obstacle who, despite being a teenager, enjoys resting her head on dad's shoulder at the end of the day.

Pappy

Before joining the police department, Parsons pursued a career in security. Although he admits as a child he dreamed of one day being a detective - "I think every little boy does" - he found success by working his way up to becoming a bank officer.

Several years later, the bank he worked at was bought out and, with a gentle nudge from his wife, he decided to enroll in the police academy.

He was 48 years old.

Parsons said there were days when his fellow officers were hesitant to partner with him. "We don't want to get stuck with the old guy," he mimicked.

"I had to prove myself," he said. "I couldn't just do a good job; I had to do a better job than anyone else. I had to show the guys I deserved to be there."

And his path wasn't easy.

From being stabbed with a bloody knife at a crime scene to being trampled by a bull at a traffic accident, he earned his spot in patrol and then was promoted to detective. Parsons also works with the department's hostage negotiation unit.

"Parsons' strong ability to communicate and listen is what drew the department to recruit him into the unit," Guerra said. "He doesn't let the stress of the job crumble him."

Parsons said he is well aware of the risk involved with being an officer and said it's never easy explaining those to his family or having them know that one day he might not come home from work.

It's why his home life is shielded from his desk and why he is hesitant to give offenders his first name.

"There are a lot of mean people out there," he said. "You've always got to be cognizant somebody may try to hurt you - you've got to be right 100 percent of the time and never make a mistake."

Over time, being the "old guy" on the force stopped being a distraction, and as with many other officers, he was inducted into the family with playful banter and a nickname that stuck: Pappy.

"I'm not even sure how that started," he laughed. "I think Sharon over with dispatch stuck me with that."

Police culture

"It's fine," he said. "Everybody gets teased about something. If you're not being teased, then you need to worry."

It's police culture.

A bond unlike any other.

"I trust them with my life," he said. "And they trust me with theirs. When you're out there on a call, and it's dark, and people are screaming and bleeding, and you don't know what's going on - except there's been a lot of violence - you have to trust whoever's there with you has your back."

That bond. His children. His wife. It's all sanity for Parsons.

Especially the wife.

"My wife is a fantastic wife - a fantastic person," he said. "She is the perfect cop wife. She knows I may not come home at night. Does it bother her? Yes, it does, but at the same time, she doesn't nag about it, and she doesn't harp about it."

She knows it's part of the job.

Going into the academy, his wife said, she knew that being an officer is not an "8-to-5 job" and that he can't just turn it off when he walks through the door.

"Talking about the job and letting off steam helps him unwind and relax, and I just listen," she said. "Cops have a saying that their main job is to be able to go home at the end of the day, and I know what that means. I am a person of faith, and I pray - and send him an I-love-you text every day - that God takes care of him."

It's the life they chose.

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