Lt. Tom Hodgson started his law enforcement career as a part-time reserve officer for the Mapleton Police Department while making most of his income in the construction industry building power plants. In February 1987, he started his first full-time law enforcement job as a facility security guard for the Utah County Sheriff’s Office.
More than three decades later, Hodgson, 62, is still with the sheriff’s office. He has worked in the corrections division transporting inmates, in the judicial division delivering subpoenas and with the enforcement division patrolling the streets and responding to emergency calls. Hodgson moved up the ranks over the years from sergeant to lieutenant and currently works as the commander of the patrol division.
Hodgson’s work with the sheriff’s office has not gone unnoticed. In December, the Utah County Commission recognized him as county Employee of the Month and later as Employee of the Year.
Part of Hodgson’s success in law enforcement has come from how he sees his role in the community.
“My philosophy is (to) always treat people how you want to be treated,” Hodgson said. “Treat them with respect. Regardless of what they’ve done, they’re still human beings, and so it’s our obligation to treat them with dignity.”
The lieutenant remembers growing up in Spanish Fork, where he has lived his whole life, and looking up to officers who “were role models to me.”
“I saw how they interacted with the youth, I saw how they interacted with the public … and I thought, some day, I want to be that guy,” he said.
In 1990, Hodgson co-founded a program called Shop with a Cop that pairs underprivileged children with officers who take them Christmas shopping. The money comes from “beard funds” that deputies pay for having beards, goatees and other forms of facial hair, as well as through donations from businesses and individuals, Hodgson said.
There is nothing more rewarding than seeing the smiling face of a child as they walk around with “their new best friend,” Hodgson said, adding that it is not uncommon for officers to reach into their own pockets if the kids go over budget.
“It’s the greatest reward in law enforcement that I’ve had in my career,” said Hodgson, who currently oversees the program. “I think I can speak for all of the officers involved, we reap far more from this program than the children do.”
There are difficult aspects of working in law enforcement as well, Hodgson said, including dealing with people who are adversarial toward police or who have a “criminal mind.”
“In this kind of career, it’s difficult to keep everyone happy,” he said, and not uncommon for officers to become cynical in this line of work.
But, Hodgson added, “it’s how you treat those people that makes a mark on your career.”
Hodgson has made a note to always try to leave a positive impact on the lives of those he interacts with — even people he arrests. He remembers arresting a man in a theft case and receiving a manila envelope in the mail a few months later. It contained a letter from the man promising he would change his life around, as well as a pencil-drawn sketch of an elk standing in pine trees that was inspired by a picture Hodgson had hanging in his office.
Another time, Hodgson was celebrating his birthday with his family at a restaurant in Orem when the waitress told him his check had been paid for. He looked around the corner and saw a man he had arrested years earlier. The man thanked Hodgson and introduced him to his family.
“And so when you have those little things happen in your career, it makes it feel like you’ve contributed in a positive manner to help our society,” said Hodgson.
Hodgson sees his role in the sheriff’s office as being more than merely an enforcer of the law. The other part of his job, he said, is to help people see their potential and “believe in themselves.”
“There are so many good people in this world, and particularly in Utah County,” he said. “And even though some of those people may have made a mistake, they’re still good people. And so we have to treat them as such.”
As Hodgson reaches the tail end of his career, he hopes to inspire younger generations to pursue careers in law enforcement.
“It’s one of the most rewarding careers you can imagine,” Hodgson said. “It’s something different every day.”
When asked what advice he would give to a young deputy, Hodgson said he would tell them to treat others how they want to be treated.
“You control what you can control in your career,” he said. “If you’re going into this career, be prepared for the opportunity to make a difference in people’s lives.”