Princeton Police Officer Bradley French grew up with a father who served in the military, thus requiring the family to move around quite a bit. He lived in North Carolina most of his life, but never had what he refers to as a “hometown.” That has all changed since after he began his policing career in Princeton. The city, located in central Caldwell County in the heart of Black Patch Tobacco country, has become his home. Prior to his police career, French served in the Marine Corps for eight years and has been with Princeton for four years. As a patrol officer, French has dealt with many issues ranging from traffic stops to executing warrants.
Bradley French’s desire to help people makes his life as a patrol officer for the Princeton Police Department a natural fit.
“It suits me well because I like being outside and I like not knowing what is going to happen next,” the four-year veteran said. “I don’t like being behind a desk; I might later on, but not right now. I like helping people, and I get to do that a lot.
“I like stopping my car and playing basketball with the kids,” he continued. “I think Princeton is the right size where we have a lot of the good, but also some of the bad.”
Like many young officers, the excitement of being a police officer is a draw, and serving warrants always keeps French on his toes.
“You never know what you’re going to get,” he said. “You’ve got one officer in the front and one in the back because you don’t know if the person is going to take off out of a side window.”
One of the biggest thrills comes when he is given permission to search a home and is told the suspect isn’t there, only to discover them hiding.
“We find them in the attic, a closet or the crawl space all the time,” French said. “I think it’s exciting looking for suspects.”
Fit for Duty
There are many factors that go into doing the job, French said. Most important is the officer’s mental and physical fitness.
“To be a good officer, you have to be strong physically and mentally,” he said. “You have to be smart and have the ability to think fast. You also have to have the physical mindset because you do serve warrants on people who do not want to go to jail.”
Police also have to have a high degree of compassion and be both sympathetic and empathetic, French said.
“Usually, I’m dealing with people who have made bad choices, but they have made that choice,” he said. “It’s hard to feel bad for them, but you sometimes do. Especially if there are kids involved in the situation.”
Dealing with cases involving children can take its toll, French said, who has worked several child-abuse cases.
“I had this one call, and it was rough,” he said. “I believe in disciplining your children with an open hand, spank on the butt. However, this kid had welts all over from his upper back to his knees. The grandfather was doing it with a cutting board – the welts were from the cutting board. The kid is OK, but it is something that tugs at you and you feel bad for the kid.”
Handling the many stressful incidents that are part of policing are different for individual officers. For French, his outlet is doing some roadwork.
“My stress reliever is just driving,” he said. “It’s a big part of the job anyway, so I think that is my best stress reliever on the job. I will get in my car and go for a ride. I get to be outside with the windows down … I think it’s a good destresser.”
Policing, like any job, has it's good and bad. Obviously, the bad comes when dealing with the criminal element. The good comes from helping people and interacting with children, French said.
“I’ve been here at the police department several times when people have stopped by to show a child the police station and cars,” he said. “They want to see the lights and hear the sirens, and we give the kids little stickers.”
The interaction goes a long way in showing children that the police are not bad and, in turn, builds trust as the kids grow into adulthood.
Marine to Police
Being a police officer is something French knew he wanted to be at an early age. However, before he embarked on serving his community, he spent eight years serving his country.
“Right out of high school, I joined the Marine Corps because I just finished 12 years of school, and I wasn’t looking forward to four more years,” he said.
Following his stint in the Marines, French said the appeal and pride of wearing a uniform made the transition into policing a no-brainer.
“I like being in uniform and taking care of myself and taking pride in what I’m doing and what I’m wearing,” he said.
Policing and the military share many similarities, French said.
“There are non-tangible skills such as leadership and mentorship that are transferable,” he said. “In the Marine Corps, we had a mentorship program. Everyone had a mentor; it didn’t matter if you were the boss or the junior Marine. As a police officer, we’re a little bit of everything – were mentors, counselors and so on. In that aspect, it carries over.”
Mentoring and counseling, French said, comes in handy in the profession given the number of calls that require officers to get into other people’s personal lives.
“We deal with a lot of civil stuff – child custody, divorces and things of that nature,” he said. “We’re really in people’s homes a lot dealing with interpersonal family matters.”
After all, dealing with the public is a major part of the profession, and interacting in a positive manner is something that has been instilled in every officer in Princeton, and it’s second nature for French.
“One of the big things (former Chief Don Weedman) liked for us to do is wave,” French said. “It builds a good rapport with the community. I can see the effects of it. Even if they don’t wave back, but later on, I may see that same person and they will start talking to me. It’s nice being in a small town and being able to see the same people all the time and getting to know them.”