Officer Paul McDonald has been serving the community of Midland as a part of the Midland Police Department. We sat down with him to discuss his role and what it’s like being at the forefront of some groundbreaking programming to help citizens.
Q: Can you tell us how long you have served the City of Midland and where else you have served?
A: Certainly. I have been with the Midland Police Department since 2011. It’s been seven and a half years. I was in Saginaw County prior to that as a deputy part-time, and in addition to serving Saginaw, I was also an Officer with the City of St. Louis.
Q: How did you get into criminal justice, and when did you know you wanted to be an officer?
A: Well, I knew I wanted to be an officer back in high school but for various reasons I went a different route with my career. I took the long way around to law enforcement. I have a degree in accounting, and I knew didn’t want to do that for the rest of my life.
I went back to school, got a master’s degree in Exercise Physiology and then managed the Dow Chemical fitness centers here in Midland. Then around 2006 Dow did a global job reduction and my position was eliminated. After that, I talked to my family and decided to give the police academy a shot.
Q: What are some of your favorite parts of the job?
A: For police work in general, my favorite part is that there is something new every day. I know officers who have been on the job for 19 years and they will still encounter something they have never dealt with before. It’s a career that always keeps you guessing and you always have to be on your toes. We are problem solvers. We get invited into people’s lives because they have a problem we need to help them solve. For law enforcement, it’s a good feeling to know that you can help people through that initial situation and hopefully people can come out on the other side having grown into a better version of themselves.
As a community relations officer, I’m the face to the public. Any time an organization, business or citizen needs law enforcement input, I’m usually the guy who gets involved. I do a lot of education, a lot of work with kids which is always fun, and starting to build those relationships with citizens at an early age so hopefully that relationship continues to be good at an older age. By building those relationships, we can work together to make the community a better place for everyone to be in.
Departmentally, I get to be involved in and develop a lot of our programs. Within our department I’m on our D.A.R.E. board, and along with community partners I helped develop the Hope Not Handcuffs, Blueprint for Safety programs, and more. It’s not necessarily work on the front lines, but it helps from the ground up and helps MPD to get people the help they need.
Q: What are some of your biggest challenges?
A: There’s a certain amount of challenge that comes with working in a municipality. For example, when we try to create a program, there are a lot of different groups, departments, and organizations that generally need to be involved with every step of the process. That’s a good thing but also but sometimes it can slow things down and that can be challenging. We tend to want to just push right through things, and we have to remind ourselves that we need to pull back, get everyone’s input, and make sure that we aren’t stepping on toes.
For police work in general, the most challenging and the most fun parts of the job are the same. Every day being different, having to be quick thinking, and helping people solve their problems while keeping every person involved and also yourself safe at the same time. That’s a really big challenge in police work.
Q: You have watched the opioid crisis take hold of our community in the last 15 years. Can you share more about what that has been like?
A: Obviously it’s painful. We like to be problem solvers, which means we don’t want people getting hurt or having to go through this. Not only the person involved, but their family, friends and people that care. It’s painful to see addiction happen.
I think every society and group of people that has to deal with this from a law enforcement perspective, we want to do the immediate fix. We spend a lot of time and resources at the beginning of this, saying okay, let’s arrest the person who has the heroin, and the dealer, and if we do those two things, problem solved. Boom, done.
We found out through education and real-world interaction that this approach will not work. That led to the Hope not Handcuffs program and other community collaboration in helping folks who have addictions get the help that they need. Hopefully that helps end the cycle, and then we don’t have to get involved other end.
Sometimes the best answer for that is NOT putting someone in jail, and getting them medical treatment instead, working at it from that angle. We have definitely seen the problem grow, and it’s not always by choice. Sometimes people have problems with prescription opioids through no fault of their own, and then when the prescription goes away, the addiction doesn’t and they start having problems, and we need to intervene and get them the help they need.
Is it a problem that will ever go away? Probably not completely. But we can take steps to help curb the problem and manage it better. In a perfect world it would go away, but until then, we will work on it.
Q: What can people do to help their loved ones who are suffering from an opioid addiction, or who need help with other substance abuse?
A: For family and friends the number one thing you can do is support them. You have to make sure your loved one and your friend feels like they are getting support from someone. Too many people feel alone in the battle, and when people feel alone they tend to be afraid. When they are supported they feel braver, and it takes a lot of bravery to get through this issue.
Number two, do your level-headed best to get your loved one the medical treatment that they need for the addiction. If you can be supportive and somehow convince them to get the help they need, that is productive. As a preventative measure, naloxone training is definitely a good one. You don’t want to create a situation where it’s a safety net, but if a problem happens, you want to be able to help through that emergency, to get them the long-term treatment.
Lastly, educate yourself as much as you possibly can so you can empathize with that person and in turn help them to make better choices. Ultimately, they will need to make the choice to seek psychological and medical help in hopes to putting an end to that addiction.
Q: What are some services offered to the general public that community members may not be aware of?
A: During the holiday season we partner with local community groups. We have a Sharing Tree from United Way of Midland here at the Law Enforcement Center and we are also a drop off location for Toys for Tots. We also have the D.A.R.E. program we offer for fifth graders to help teach kids to make good choices.
A lot of people don’t know this, but we offer tours of the Law Enforcement Center for groups of people who are interested in what we do. Often the tours are for younger populations like the Cub Scouts and their parents, but we also do tours for adult groups like Leadership Midland, Citizen’s Academy and City of Midland employees.
We also have a “dump your drugs” bin here in the lobby full time, accessible 24/7 so anyone can stop by the Law Enforcement Center, no questions asked, deposit any old or unused prescription medication, and you don’t even have to talk to anyone. We also do some fun things to get out in the community in the summer like Cone with a Cop, where give tours of the police vehicles and have ice cream for kids, and in the fall season we have a version for adults that we call Coffee with a Cop. At these events citizens can come out, mingle with us, ask about concerns they have or questions about city projects or anything under the sun.