BROWNSTOWN

In all facets of his job with the Brownstown Police Department, Tom Wright focused on making good decisions.

As a Drug Abuse Resistance Education officer for 10 years, he educated students on the effects of drug, alcohol and tobacco use and encouraged them to make the right decisions in life.

There were times as a school resource officer that he would see a former DARE student in the school office.

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“We would sit down, ‘Do you remember DARE and did you make a good choice?’ ‘No.’ ‘OK,’” he said. “That’s what I liked about being able to talk to them on that level, ‘Did you make a good choice?’ asking those types of questions. They know what they did was wrong. It’s a good way of getting them to think about what they did.”

The same applied to when he had to pull a motorist over for a traffic violation or talk to someone who committed a crime.

Of all of the times he focused on others making the right decisions, Wright recently had to make one himself.

After 22 years with the police department, he decided to retire.

“You know when your body starts saying, ‘Time to slow down,’” Wright said. “It’s kind of one of those that has been in the back of my mind for the last couple of years, and it’s just kind of like, ‘Maybe this is time.’”

Before a Brownstown Town Council meeting Sept. 18, a reception was conducted for Wright. Then during the meeting, Police Chief Tom Hanner and council President Sally Lawson presented him with a plaque.

It was on that date in 1995 that he was sworn in to serve on the police department in the county seat.

“I can’t believe it has been 22 years,” he said. “(Law enforcement) is something I always wanted to do. I walk away, but I’m not upset that I made the decision. I’ve had fun. I’ve learned a lot.”

Before he started with the department, he worked a variety of jobs.

After graduating from George Washington High School in Indianapolis in 1972, he worked at a Harper J. Ransburg warehouse, which later was bought out by Cosco and became Ransburg Cosco. He also joined the Indiana National Guard, 38th MP Company in Danville.

In 1976, he moved on to a different job, finished his service with the Indiana National Guard and married. While he and his wife, Terri, lived in Brownstown, he worked for Amoco Container.

When he turned 21, he considered starting a law enforcement career, so he applied to the Marion County Sheriff’s Department and Indiana State Police.

After he didn’t land either of those jobs, he enrolled in the auto diesel technology program at Oakland City College, and he and his wife moved to Princeton. While there, he worked at Peter Healey Brass Foundry Co. until it was bought out by Elkhart Products.

In September 1979, Wright learned about Joe Collins having an opening for a mechanic at his motorcycle shop on the north edge of Brownstown, so he and his wife moved back to town. He worked there until the shop closed in 1986.

Then he worked at M&E Honda in Bedford for a couple of years and the Jackson County Sheriff’s Department, Central Pharmaceuticals and Johnson County Correctional Unit at Camp Atterbury each for a year.

Wright then worked for Jackson County Community Corrections, first as a road crew officer and later with the house arrest department, until he was hired as a patrolman with the Brownstown Police Department.

Wright said he had been drawn to law enforcement since high school.

“Just thinking about being of service, it wasn’t so much as going out and arresting bad people or anything, but just at that time, the image of a police officer being a helpful person, that was it. It seemed like that interested me,” he said.

“You weren’t stuck in a building running a machine,” he said. “You were outside, and every day was a new day, it was a different day. You never knew what was going to happen in the next hour.”

When he started, Wright was one of four officers on the Brownstown force.

In 2004, the department was approached by the county DARE officer about helping teach the program at Brownstown Elementary School. Steve Scarlett did it for a year, and then Wright took over in 2005.

He became a certified DARE officer after completing the two-week course at the Fishers Police Department.

Wright taught five classes at Brownstown and also helped at Crothersville and Freetown elementary schools and Lutheran Central School when needed.

He said he taught about 130 fifth-graders per year.

“My first students are now in their 20s, and I still run into some of them every so often,” he said. “Hopefully, you’ve been a positive impact for them.”

He also spent time as a school resource officer, which involved helping with traffic control and having a police presence at the three Brownstown school buildings. That was another opportunity for Wright to help students and staff in a variety of ways, whether it was answering questions or helping resolve issues inside or outside of school.

Wright said thoughts of retirement first entered his mind in early 2015 when he was off work after having surgery for prostate cancer.

“It was really planted back then because while I was off, it’s kind of like, ‘Is this maybe time to step out?’” he said.

“The last year I’ve been on the street, I’m encountering people 20, 30, 40 years younger than me, and maybe it’s time not to quit working but maybe working at something else, doing something else,” he said. “This is getting to be a very strenuous, high-stressful job, and it’s best suited for the younger generation that’s out there.”

Even though he retired from the police department, Wright hasn’t stopped working altogether. He recently started a job at NTN Driveshaft in Walesboro and is working the same shift as his wife.

“I plan to stay there two or three years minimum,” he said. “I hit 66, and then we’ll take another evaluation, ‘OK, what’s cost-effective? Can I retire actually and maybe take a part-time job?’”

Wright said he hopes to somehow apply his background in law enforcement and emergency management planning in his job.

“I plan to still educate people whenever I can,” he said. “I figure things that I’ve learned, lessons I’ve learned here I can take out into the private sector.”

He also plans to continue mowing at the Jackson County Fairgrounds and writing about auto racing for The Jackson County Banner.

“I enjoy that part. I like going into garages, I like covering the races and I like taking pictures,” Wright said. “If it wasn’t for law enforcement, that is where I actually learned to write, and that is where I learned how to take pictures. When I write, I’m not really writing fiction. I write what I see. I have a different eye for seeing certain things.”

Wright file

Name: Tom Wright Sr.

Age: 63

Hometown: Indianapolis

Residence: Brownstown

Education: George Washington High School (1972); attended Oakland City College; Indiana Law Enforcement Academy (1996); DARE officer training (2005); National Association of School Resource Officers (2014)

Occupation: Recently retired after 22 years with the Brownstown Police Department; now working at NTN Driveshaft in Walesboro

Family: Wife, Terri Wright; son, T.J. (Joy) Wright and Aaron (Kelsi) Wright; grandchildren, Kelby Wright and Tate Wright

Author photo
Zach Spicer is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at zspicer@tribtown.com or 812-523-7080.