Keeping the peace in Jacksonville

Jacksonville Police Chief Tommy Thompson.

Stephen Gross

Police Chief Tommy Thompson became a student at Jacksonville State University in 1968 after graduating from Gadsden High School. His goal was to graduate with a business degree, but law enforcement was never far from his mind. He even applied to be a state trooper cadet at one time. The drawback to that job was that he’d have to move to southern part of the state and he wanted to stay closer to home.

He’d been studying business three years when JSU offered a law enforcement program. He applied for an internship with the City of Jacksonville, a position that would last one month, June, in 1971. That one month of riding with police officers and seeing how they faced - and solved - problems on a daily basis made the 21-year-old realize that that’s where he needed to be.

A plus for Thompson is that Mayor John B. Nisbet and Police Chief Ross Tipton, were happy with his work. He was offered a summer job from July until October. That job turned into a full-time position. He was hired and that put the number of officers at that time up to 10.

Today, the city has almost three times that number. When the force is in full strength, the city has 27 officers. After Tipton retired, Thompson was interim chief until Paul Locke was hired to replace Tipton. Thompson became police chief on June 1, 1988. He said he’s been chief so long - 29 years - that he’s often asked who the police chief was when he was born.

“The older I get, the more I hear,” he said. “I used to have people tell me that I arrested their uncle or their daddy. I’ve been doing this so long, now they tell me 1 arrested their grandfather.”

Thompson said he’s had a good working relationship with the mayors and City Council. They’ve obliged him when he needs more officers or when his budget changes. The force is currently three offices short, but Thompson said he’s confident that city leaders will give him permission to make the hires.

“They’ve let me run the (police) department,” he said. “They let me make improvements and get things done. They’ve never given me any interference.”

As much as he loved that “old building on Ladiga Street,” he’s a lot happier in the new public service building behind Walmart. “It had seen its times,” he said. “It’s a pleasure coming to work. The new building is great.” Going to work now makes for a happier police chief. The parking is adequate, the ceiling’s not falling in, there’s no asbestos to be found, and the air conditioning works when it’s supposed to. -

Thompson’s job has consumed a major part of his life. Not that he’s complaining. Come Oct. 8, he’ll have been with the police department 46 years. During that time, he’s been called out on Christmas Day, his children’s birthdays, and in the middle of the night in pouring rain. Still, he’s not complaining, but the 67-year-old chief is looking forward to when he can retire.

Diane, his wife of 45 years, has been battling health problems for the past nine years. She has learned to live with his job. Right now, he said, his hobby is “keeping an eye on her.”

Their sons are Thomas III and David Ross (named after the late Ross Tipton) of Jacksonville. Their grandchildren are Dylan and Baylee.

Thompson is a member of the Fraternal Order of Police and the Alabama Association of Chiefs of Police. He’s a life member of the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

While he’s happy about a number of things that’s happened in his years in law enforcement, there’s one thing that stands out. In 2009, through a partnership with JSU and Alabama Police Chiefs Association, he was the first police chief in the county to be certified as a law enforcement executive.