KOKOMO, Ind. – Being a police officer for 21 years, member of the SWAT team for 10 years, and a 9-1-1 director for the past two years just isn't enough for Cliff Gardner.
He's always had a passion for helping people, which is why he will graduate this May with a bachelor's degree in psychology – taking his desire to help others to the next level.
"Psychology goes hand-in-hand with law enforcement, and that's why I chose to go back to school," Gardner said, who returned to the classroom 13 years ago. "It's been a long journey, but I'm thankful for everything I've learned and the opportunities I've received."
During his time as a student, he completed an internship with the probation department in Miami County where he was able to help in a different capacity.
"The biggest thing I learned from this is there is help in juvenile probation departments that actually works," Gardner said. "It was awesome to be apart of the department and learn something new."
At times, it proved difficult to work at the department, but he pushed through because he knew he could make a difference.
"Working with these kids was a lot like being a father," Gardner said. "Sometimes they just needed a someone to stand up to them and help them do better and be better people."
Gardner sat in with probation officers during appointments, and after some training, completed appointments on his own. He had the opportunity to fill in for other officers and gain first-hand experience. Gardner knew many of the probation officers from his work at the police department but said it was a different experience to look at these situations from the probation side.
Gardner's line of work is tough, but he was never out to punish anyone. He simply wants to help.
"Officers deal with life and death, and often traumatic experiences," Gardner said. "It's difficult to relate to them and understand why they are upset, but I know I can help."
His desire to help others in a different way rooted in a weeklong critical incident debriefing training. Critical incident stress debriefing is for use with small groups of paramedics, firefighters, and law enforcement officers who were distressed by an exposure to a particularly gruesome event.
He found opportunities to facilitate these debriefings with other police officers, volunteer firefighters, EMTs, and schools within several communities.
"Once I worked with the debriefings in different capacities, I knew it was something I needed to do," Gardner said.
In addition, Gardner worked with a local psychologist to bring an employee assistance program to the police department, where he helped with most of the debriefings. Through this, he connected with Four County Counseling. Upon successfully completing training, he assisted them with debriefing cases.
He has enjoyed his time as a student at IU Kokomo, where he has been interacted with students sharing life experiences and vice versa.
"This has been such a rewarding journey," Gardner said. "I remember sitting in on Kevin Clark's first statistics class, and to see how far I've come is truly awesome."
He hopes to continue his education, pursue a master's degree, and counsel police officers in the future.
In his spare time, Gardner loves to go fishing and golfing, and enjoys spending time outdoors. He raises horses and chickens and enjoys horseback riding, while spending time with his family.
Story written by Mary Olk. Mary is a student writer for the Office of Media and Marketing.
Indiana University Kokomo serves north central Indiana.