New cops add to department's diverse experience



JASPER — Some were in the military. Others used to drive excavators. One even helped run his family business.

After the two newest members of the Jasper Police Department were sworn in on Wednesday, Police Chief Nathan Schmitt explained that he doesn’t have an exact checklist for the perfect officer candidate.

Training can teach a person the technical parts of the job. But the important qualifications — being a stand-up person, holding strong morals and ethics, and having a good background — are the intangible attributes necessary to launching into a career on the Jasper team.

“That’s what’s so great about this whole department, not just these guys,” Schmitt said while new officers Brent Burton and Jhazz Bieker posed for pictures with friends and family. “We don’t look for one person.”

Both Burton and Bieker have been eyeing careers in law enforcement since they were kids.

Burton’s career path zagged while he was studying at Jasper High School. Caring for his dying grandfather inspired him to enter the nursing field, and the 28-year-old has worked at Memorial Hospital and Health Care Center in various capacities since 2008.

Bieker is just 23 years old. After graduating from Forest Park Junior-Senior High School in 2015, the St. Anthony native earned a degree in criminology from Indiana State University. He then landed a reserve role on the Ferdinand Police Department.

Just like their peers, the newbies’ unique experiences and backgrounds will make JPD better, Schmitt said.

“The diversity of all our guys really is what makes the police department,” Schmitt said. “And these guys are perfect examples.”

He later continued: “They’re at different stages of their lives, and it gives a different perspective. And it gives us a better police department, I think.”

Burton said in a phone interview before Wednesday’s swearing in that he has always found joy in helping people in ways they can’t help themselves. Growing up, he remembers Schmitt giving D.A.R.E. program speeches to him and his classmates, and he’s looking forward to giving back to the community that has always helped him.

“I was always fascinated with the military and police officers,” said Burton, who was born and raised in Ireland. “And I don’t know why. Growing up, every kid dreams of being something.”

He dreamed of being a police officer. He doesn’t have a familial connection to police work, but he believes his medical background will come in handy at his new job.

He has already worked as a certified nursing assistant, an emergency medical technician, and most recently, an emergency room nurse. Even as an officer, Burton plans on continuing working for the hospital in an on-call capacity.

“It was always kind of back there, in the back of my head,” he said of his desire to become a cop. “Especially when you work in the ER and you see the police officers come and go all the time. I started talking to a few of them, and they said, ‘Yeah man, I think you’d be a great police officer. We’d love to have you.’”

He continued: “They kind of helped grow that seed that was already planted by myself.”

Bieker’s connection to the law is clear. His uncle, Ted, was the chief of the Ferdinand Police Department for nine years, and he still serves on the nearby force. Another uncle and grandfather also served as police officers, and his father, Tom, is a U.S. Army veteran. Those roots played a role in the younger Bieker’s decision to pursue the career.

“I would just like to make Jasper a better place,” said Bieker, who lives in St. Anthony but plans on moving to the county seat. “I just want to improve the community I live in, and just make sure that people feel protected where they live.”

After graduating from ISU — where he went on ride-alongs with the Vigo County Sheriff’s Office — he entered the reserve program in Ferdinand and applied for a job with JPD. He said on Wednesday that he hopes to use his fresh perspective and college experiences to better Jasper’s police unit.

“Being a criminology major, you talk a lot about the criminal mind and things like that,” he said. “I think I could bring some new ideas.”

Today, both Bieker and Burton will start the pre-basic training that will give them law enforcement powers. In January, the two will undergo training at the Southwest Indiana Law Enforcement Academy in Evansville.

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