CEDAR RAPIDS — As a young man in his 20s, Tobey Harrison said becoming a police officer was the last thing he thought he’d do.
A native Cedar Rapidian, Harrison was managing a fast-food restaurant — one that was frequented by police officers and sheriff’s deputies.
“You know, I’d talk to them and then I did a ride-along with one of the deputies, and it was fun and interesting, so it piqued my interest,” he said. “I never saw myself working at a desk.””
Not long after, an officer told Harrison the Cedar Rapids Police Department was hiring, but he had to act quickly if he wanted to make the deadline. Harrison did.
In 1989 — at the age of 23 — he was hired as a Cedar Rapids patrol officer, and this week — 31 years later — he’s retiring as a lieutenant. His last day with the department is Friday.
His next stop will be at Kirkwood Community College, where he accepted a newly established position as the associate vice president of emergency management and campus safety.
Before joining the police force, Harrison was a Marine reservist and was deployed to Saudi Arabia and Kuwait during the Persian Gulf War. He then joined the National Guard.
Harrison said his 12 years in the military helped him “mature as a person.”
“I went to some leadership schools while I was in the military,” he said. “My time in the military gave me skills that I have been able to use later in life.”
Shortly after Harrison started as a patrol officer, he joined the Midwest Gang Investigators Association and started talking to local gang members, documenting their affiliations and gathering information for the department.
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Over the next 12 years on patrol, he was part of the department’s special response team and became an instructor in chemical and less lethal munitions and on the use of distraction devices such as flash-bang grenades.
“There may or may not be a rumor here that I put pepper spray on my popcorn,” he joked.
In 2000, Harrison was promoted to sergeant and five years later was made a lieutenant.
In all his years on the force, Harrison is most known for his relationships in the community, Police Chief Wayne Jerman said.
“Since he started here, he has demonstrated every day how much he cares about this community,” Jerman said. “He is unbelievably reliable and trustworthy, and he’s a problem-solver. His leaving is a big deal, and it’s going to be very difficult for us to find someone who can fill his shoes.”
But luckily, the chief said, Harrison is not going far and having a former CRPD officer involved with Kirkwood public safety will strengthen the relationship between the school and the department.
MEMORIES & PRANKS
Looking back on his career, Harrison said he carries many memories.
“I did CPR on my fifth-grade homeroom teacher once,” Harrison said.
“I also responded to another medical call where a young boy was choking, and I was able to dislodge that food so the boy could breathe again,” he added. “Seventeen years later, I’m responding to an alarm call at a residence and that boy’s mother approached me, reminding of that day and explaining to me who she was, and she thanked me for saving her son. That was a really special moment.”
Harrison said he and his fellow officers also got up to shenanigans now and then.
“We’d play car pranks on each other,” he said. “This was before I got promoted, but you know, we’d take each other’s cars, turn on their top lights and hide them. You can’t do that anymore because now the lights are live and when they’re turned on, they activate the in-car camera.”
Harrison said he also pepper-sprayed his fellow officers’ cars.
“I’d spray the carpet or the air vents,” he said with a laugh. “And you’ve got to wait for it to be a really hot and muggy day. And you’d just watch the officer go ‘Oh!’ and jump out of the car.”
It’s that camaraderie Harrison said he will miss the most.
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“I basically grew up in this organization,” he said. “I’ve created relationships here, made friends here, laughed and joked around here. And I really will miss being a part of that, but I’m also lucky in the fact that I’m not going far, so I will be able to stay in contact. And I am excited to see what this new opportunity brings.”
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