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Through the lens of an officer

Cloquet native Chris Wood and his rescue dog, Jack, named after the Cloquet Lumberjacks, pose for a recent photo. Wood began writing a blog in July and is already seeing a large leap in readership. Contributed photo

Who is the officer next door? Maybe a former classmate, teammate or a friend's child. He is possibly someone a few doors down, with a vehicle marked "police" parked in the driveway, who you notice, but have never spoken to.

The officer next door could be anyone.

Chris Wood, a 2001 Cloquet Senior High School alumnus, has been all of the above. The 35-year-old left town after he graduated high school. After he graduated from Hamline University in St. Paul, he moved to Dallas, where he was a police officer for 12 years.

He loved the job in the beginning. He found a steady mentor who helped guide him over the years. He volunteered for overtime on his scheduled days off because there was always a need. He participated in car chases and drug busts. He also built bonds with his co-workers.

"They made it worthwhile," Wood said. Another aspect of the job Wood enjoyed was the satisfaction in seeing criminals sentenced for their crimes, or stopping someone from taking their own life.

Over the years, he become increasingly frustrated with the negative perceptions of law enforcement in the media and social media.

Then, on July 7, 2016, five officers were killed in the line of duty while protecting freedom of speech against them during a Black Lives Matter march in Dallas.

"It really made me evaluate what I wanted to do for a career over the next 20-30 years," Wood said. "Was this job really worth it anymore? The hate and dangers just seemed to be growing, which I would think would be concerning to all officers."

He also met his future wife, Penny. She wanted to travel. Wood decided it was time to take off from law enforcement and move forward with his wife into the next chapter of his life.

Even though he took off the badge, it does not mean he left everything behind. The memories of the years served were still there, as were the frustrations of the negative perceptions of the general public.

Wood posted a few of his thoughts on social media and received positive feedback. A few people encouraged him to take the next step with his idea, and his blog was born.

"The Officer Next Door" launched on July 7, the anniversary of the five officers killed in Dallas. His goal is to educate the public by providing a life experience perspective of a former officer. He acknowledges officers are not allowed to speak their minds while employed as an officer. Also, many times the officers themselves may not know how to articulate what they are feeling.

Woods wife helped him come up with subjects to start the fledgling blog with, as well as the name.

He keeps a list of ideas for future stories on his phone. He writes one post a week.

The common theme throughout his posts is that law enforcement employees are human, just like everyone else — they have families; they make mistakes; they're not perfect. But, most of them do the best that they can with what they have.

To his surprise, his latest post has garnered much attention. It addresses how officers jobs differ from others.

The post, "It's Not Normal," sums up the post. Wood discusses what many officers and emergency personnel see on their jobs over the years.

"It's not normal to carry the burdens police officers do, emotionally, physically and mentally," Wood writes. "It's not normal to see dead bodies, mangled bodies, decomposed bodies, dead kids, abused kids, homeless people suffering and people victimized, taken advantage of, raped or killed."

He continues with a variety of things law enforcement officers may encounter during a shift at work.

He also touches on how it is not normal that these types of things become "normal" to many officers, or that they become numb in order to deal with their type of normal.

He discusses how the hectic hours officers usually work negatively affect their lives and relationships outside of work.

He ends the post: "... Being a police officer is recognizing that you will see the worst side of humanity that society has to offer and you accept that as your normal ... it takes a special kind of person to do this job, one that isn't "normal."

The idea came from a post he read from a friend. She was upset because a fellow officer responded to a shoplifting incident at a big-box store and was shot in the face and died. Wood asked if he could use the post as a jumping point for his next blog post, and the friend agreed.

In the days following the last post, Wood was contacted by Law Enforcement Today — a website owned and administered by law enforcement — and, both interested in reprinting his most recent post.

"That's insane to me," Wood said. "I can't believe so many people are interested in what I have to say."

Another goal for Wood is to use his blog to raise money to donate to law enforcement related charities once it starts to grow.

As for upcoming stories, Wood has a few ideas. One is whatever is in the current news. Another ideas is police suicides, which Wood thinks are under reported.

"Learning comes from understanding," Wood said.