Patrol Officer Dory Thompson, Steelton Borough Police Department
A job as operations manager of a fine-dining Savannah, Ga. restaurant gave Dory Thompson a taste of demanding, 24/7 work. But it wasn’t enough.
“I had a great job and was making good money and didn’t feel fulfilled,” she says. “For the rest of my life, I wanted to make a difference.”
On June 1, 2015, Thompson fulfilled her dream of finding demanding work with a purpose when she took the oath to join the Steelton Borough Police Department. At that moment, she became Steelton’s first full-time female officer, beginning a journey that has connected her with Steelton’s struggles and triumphs.
Born and raised in Lancaster County, Patrol Officer Thompson is the stepdaughter of a constable. After a stint as a part-time officer in Perry County, she sought a post in Steelton.
“I noticed a sense of family here,” she says. “The department’s very close. As a town, Steelton’s crime has gotten higher over the years, but there are a lot of Steeltonians who have been here 30, 40, 50, 60 years and still raise their families here. There’s a strong sense of heart.”
At first, working the 3-to-11-p.m. shift, she would spend time visiting after-school programs.
“I love those kids,” says Thompson, herself the mother of an 11-year-old daughter. Thompson constantly reminds herself of the impression she’s leaving behind.
“Adults are hard to change their ways and their mindset, but children are the most impressionable ones,” she says. “If we spend a good bit of time with them, we can still affect how they see us, and in turn, they go home and show that to their parents.”
In a time of fraught relations among some police and citizens, Thompson sees the department’s community policing and outreach initiatives as trust-builders. Girls, especially, are “so impressionable.”
“They call me ‘Girl Cop,’” she says. “It’s very empowering.”
Domestic-violence cases immerse Thompson in volatile situations, but even in the most heart-wrenching circumstances, she finds “there’s always something you can do for someone.”
She once sat with an 8-year-old boy whose birthday party was ruined when the father beat up the mother in front of the kids.
“It’s the worst day of my life,” the boy said.
Thompson shared what she once thought was her worst day – the dog ate her birthday cake and then threw up – and jokingly assured him, “You have a long life ahead. You will have another worst day of your life.” He laughed a bit. “At least I have a birthday cake,” he conceded.
Later, Thompson saw the boy’s mother at the court hearing.
“If you wouldn’t have been there, I probably wouldn’t have left him and wouldn’t have gone through this,” the woman said. “My kids have not stopped talking about you. You showed so much compassion.”
“It’s times like that I love my job, because that’s what I feel I’m here to do,” says Thompson. “I impact people’s lives.”
Thompson hopes to spend the rest of her career in Steelton, where police “really, genuinely care” about the community and each other.
“We all have families,” she says. “We know there’s nothing we wouldn’t do for each other to get home to our families every night.”
This article appears in the July 2016 issue of Harrisburg Magazine