While UTPD Officer Jalen Harris was at the police academy in Nashville, a deadly tornado swept through the area. Then came the coronavirus that seemingly overnight upended the way of life as most know it.
Both events caused interruptions and changes in his training but also provided poignant lessons he said will serve him well as a police officer: “They taught me that you have to expect the unexpected. Everything can be different in a second. Being in this type of occupation, don’t take any day or anything for granted.”
Harris graduated March 23 from the Tennessee Law Enforcement Training Academy in Nashville. He was part of a class of 90 officers from agencies across Tennessee.
The ceremony was canceled in cooperation with the governor’s office in an effort to combat the spread of COVID-19. Not one for fanfare, Harris said he was more disappointed for his family. Several relatives had planned to attend including his maternal grandfather, who was a sheriff in Tuskegee, Alabama, for 30 years.
“My granddad was going to hand me my certificate, so I know he was upset about [the cancellation],” he said.
Harris decided to become a police officer because of the negative view that many people have of the profession. He wants to help change that perception.
“In any job there are people who make the right decisions and people who make the wrong decisions,” he said. “I want to be part of the ones who make the right decisions at the right times and help as many people as I can. I definitely want to be that good example.”
He chose UTPD so he could focus on outreach—an experience he would gain by getting to know students and other members of the campus community. He also was thrilled about the opportunity to continue his education at the university.
Harris has always held jobs that allowed him to help others—whether it was at a summer camp or a health and wellness store.
“So many people in the world just need someone to talk to or listen to them,” he said.
After the tornadoes struck and COVID-19 became a pandemic, academy leadership condensed some of the classroom learning and reduced hands-on training so the cadets could get in as much as possible before the academy closed.
Harris found it most interesting that the training was run much like a military boot camp.
“The reasoning behind it was if you could get through academy, then you can handle anything on the streets,” he said. “It gave me some real-life experience dealing with things we weren’t prepared for and allowed us to think on our feet.”