Growing up, Norman had an uncle who was a chief of police for a small town, but he never even considered a career as a cop until he was 26 years old. The youngest of nine children, he eventually decided to apply to the North Little Rock Police Department, was hired and went through the law enforcement academy. Upon graduation, he was assigned to the patrol division, where he still serves today 17 years later — with no desire to ever leave.
When Norman started patrolling the streets of NLR, his mother would call him each night at 2:00 a.m. to make sure he was safe. No matter how old one gets, a mother will always worry, and she wouldn’t be denied knowing her child was well.
Seventeen years ago terms like tweet, viral video, post, Instagram and Facebook either didn’t exist in our lexicon, or meant something completely different. Times have changed. Smart cops have embraced that change and use social media to their advantage. Tommy Norman did just that and became, unexpectedly, a Facebook superstar and Instagram sensation. He has always been a great guy and compassionate cop according to his community and peers.
From the beginning Norman understood that to be a successful cop required public trust. The same people who often have valuable information for the police can be the same people who trust the authorities least. Gaining this trust, while not impossible, takes years to build and can be destroyed in seconds.
Officer Norman knew that the way to be a part of a community was to be a part of its lives and without prejudice. This is not to say that Norman won’t arrest someone who broke the law. On the contrary, part of gaining his community’s trust is by being fair and keeping the streets safe for the law-abiding citizens; final judgment is left to the judge and jury. Norman works around people who have difficulties and sometimes need to be punished. This allows them to learn, move forward and change.
Officer Norman is Making a difference. A man named Willie was recently arrested in NLR for stealing copper piping from an abandoned house. Norman (not the arresting officer), spoke with Willie while he was in jail and discovered that he had stolen the piping to pay his rent. While it was clear that Willie needed to be arrested because he had commited a crime, Norman also saw a chance to help him out and showed him other ways to get help without breaking the law. Norman mentioned this incident on one of his social media accounts and received a check from a woman in Pennsylvania to help Willie pay his utilities. Norman took the money and paid Willie’s utilities. When he presented the receipt to Willie and explained what had happened, Willie cried. “I had no idea people cared,” Willie said.
Recently a couple from New York contacted Norman to tell him about their wedding anniversary gift. The wife, Kim, wanted to buy clothes and shoes for one of Norman’s best little friends, Tim Tim and his brothers. Tim Tim and crew were new to the area and in need of help.
Another video that Norman posted shows him meeting up with Gloria, a former drug user and homeless woman, whom he would see walking the streets late at night and early in the morning. On the day of the video, Gloria had been clean for three years, employed and living in an apartment. She and Officer Norman danced a little jig in the lobby of a local fast-food restaurant to celebrate her sobriety.
A couple, Deborah and Jay, who both have special needs had met in a homeless shelter. Because of their financial situation they move regularly, and always picked a dwelling in Norman’s patrol area simply because they felt safe with him around. Norman was their best man for their wedding vow renewal.
Several years ago Norman saw an opportunity to get to know the kids in his patrol area. Many of them stand around at school bus stops, but instead of being bored they wait with anticipation. Will today be the day that Officer Norman comes? Will he dance? Sing? Will he ask about grades? The answer is, “Yes.”
Norman is reknowned for posting videos on social media of dancing and singing with kids at their bus stops. He doesn’t care that the kids laugh at him when he doesn’t know all the dance moves, or that they think he looks silly doing the “NaeNae,” a type of celebratory dance. He also doesn’t discriminate when it comes to the age of what he calls his “victims.” Browsing through his video catalog one can see him dancing with fellow officers, senior citizens and young and old alike. All of his videos have one thing in common – everyone is smiling. A smile is really a snapshot of the heart, a physical demonstration of what is happening on the inside. For a brief moment in time, these people have forgotten their everyday worries and stresses.
There are many hard realities that a police officer must deal with, but the most difficult of all is a child in need, says Norman. Many of the bus-stop kids come from homes that cannot afford to feed them breakfast in the morning. One of the first questions Norman asks is if anyone is hungry. You’ll never see this part of his visits on his videos simply because, I imagine, Norman wouldn’t want any of these kids to be embarrassed.
He carries Pop-Tarts and juice in the trunk of his car in case any of the kids haven’t eaten. He could refer these kids or their parents to a social programs and call it good enough, but he realizes that he can feed a child right here and now. This love goes beyond police work and speaks to Norman’s humanity and caring. While a Pop-Tart and a juice box won’t solve world hunger or poverty, it helps a child know that there are people who care, and many of them wear a law-enforcement uniform.
One of Norman’s favorite pastimes is reading to the kids, and he carries books in his car so he is always ready. Kids usually see reading as a boring exercise. Norman is teaching these kids that someone cool loves to read, and because he has gained their trust, his example has value to them. The quickest way out of poverty is by having dreams and an education. Books provide both.
Among the stops along Norman’s beat are the senior-citizen assisted living centers where there are people who suffer from disabilities, along with the homeless and downtrodden. He has even deputized two men who have cerebral palsy and are wheelchair bound. He refers to them as Officer Pickens and Officer Sharp. He reports in with them regularly, bringing smiles to their faces and to the faces of the thousands who see
Norman can be seen in his videos pulling over children in their toy cars and issuing citations – unless they escape! He’s been locked in the back of his police car by an unforgiving child officer, and laughed at by citizens of all ages as he tries to do the Quan, yet another type of dance. More importantly, he inspires others.
Sadly, not all of Norman’s experiences have had a happy ending. During our interview, Norman told me of a young man named Tupac whom he had known from the street. In the beginning, this child would smile, wave and run to meet up with him. As the child grew older, he would look away when Norman approached. Pretty soon the kid wanted nothing to do with him or any other police officer. He had mixed in with the wrong crowd and started making poor decisions. A couple of months prior to our interview this young man was shot and killed in the street.
Officer Norman has been on CNN and The Today Show, and has been recognized by multiple community organizations for his work with the citizens of NLR. He has inspired people from New York, Pennsylvania, Utah and many other locations who were willing to get involved. More importantly, he is inspiring other officers at the community level. He doesn’t expect everyone to get involved the way he does, but he does give sound advice to fellow officers via Instagram: “Bring back the human factor and stop creating an us-against-them mentality. I challenge every fellow officer to get out of their cars and walk, talk, dance, play and interact with their community. There will be less lives lost and more mutual respect.”
Will all of this matter in the big picture? Will it matter that he gave out Pop-Tarts, sang and danced at bus stops? It matters to those children. Those kids love him and one day when they need him most, they will know that they can count on him. ASJ
Editor’s note: If you would like to see Officer Norman’s videos and images, or follow his daily routine, you can visit: Instagram at TNorman23 or Facebook.com/Tommy.Norman.944.