37-year police department veteran Hughes happy with his career as he says goodbye

Tom Hughes (left) in his most recent police department photo, and Tom Hughes in his earlier days on the police force.
Tom Hughes (left) in his most recent police department photo, and Tom Hughes in his earlier days on the police force. Photos provided.

Originally published Oct. 10, 2013.

"Thirty-seven years is a long time in one place," says Tom Hughes of his career working for the Huntington police force.

"But you know, I couldn't think of anything else I'd rather do."

When asked if he has any regrets, he smiles and replies, "Nah - I am happy."

On Friday, Oct. 4, Hughes retired as a police captain on second shift. He started with the department in May 1976 as a patrolman.

During his time on the force, he served as assistant chief of police three times - for a total of 14 years - under three different mayors and three different police chiefs.

"Anybody that starts at the police department works as a patrolman initially. I was a patrolman for 14 years, and then I was promoted to sergeant," explains Hughes.

He says a few years later, former Huntington Mayor Gene Snowden appointed him assistant police chief. He served in that capacity for the four years Snowden was in office.

In 2000, he returned to that appointment under Mayor Terry Abbett. At that time, Hughes says he was assistant chief for eight years.

Later, Hughes served as assistant police chief for a third and final time - for two years - for Mayor Steve Updike.

Hughes says he has stories to bore someone for hours, but recalls a few of the more dangerous days on the job.
"(I have been shot at) only two times ... in 37 years. That's not too bad," he says.

The first time, Hughes says, was after he had been working for the force only a few years. He says he responded to a call of an intruder at a vacant factory building, and as he patrolled the building with the security guard on duty he saw that the intruder "had the shotgun in one arm, and she was swinging it back and forth, and her finger was on the trigger.

"We (Hughes and his fellow patrolmen) looked at each other and we kind of spread out a little bit.

"We had just gotten ready to say something to her, when there was a noise in the building.

"In the downward arc of that shotgun, she pulled the trigger.

"The pellets went everywhere - I swear to God you could hear them go by your head," he recalls.
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"There was one other time that I was shot at," he says, "and that was from a long distance."

Hughes says he was responding to a call about a "guy that was mad at his wife, and when he arrived on the scene, "you could hear the gun go off and you could hear the bullets hitting the side of the house."

Hughes says the woman was brought to safety, and the next morning the man committed suicide at his mother's home.

When he considers the possibility that he may have saved someone's life, he replies, "You never know.
"I am sure there was somewhere along the line that I helped someone keep from dying."

On the other side of the coin, he has witnessed many deaths in the last 37 years.

"You go up on a fatality; those leave some pretty vivid images.

"I can remember one at the bypass, it was really bad, and it was someone I knew. And that makes it even harder," he says.

"I think probably everybody (on the force) has something that they deal with at some point," Hughes continues, "I remember walking into a few homes where little babies have died, and the parents are distraught. That leaves an image in your mind. It is something that you just can't let get to you too much.

"You know, we don't really have an on-board psychologist or anything like that - never have had - so you know, you talk to your spouse and you talk to the other guys, and you know, you just have to leave it.

"You can't let it stay with you.

"But I am sure everybody down there (at the station) has had a situation that they have seen that they still remember and it bothers them."

In the nearly 40 years he served Huntington, Hughes saw more than life and death.

"Police work is police work," he explains, "you are always going to be looking for a bad guy."

The nature of the job has changed since 1976, he says.

"There is more of a social sense (today) that you have to help people take care of themselves," he says,

"And, drugs, oh my! In 1970 the worst thing you saw was somebody got drunk; and maybe once in a great while somebody smoked some dope.

"As it has evolved over the years it's been cocaine, meth and now today with all the pills, it has really made the job a lot harder."

Hughes says there's a "huge change in the way we deal with people now.

"It used to be - in the 1970s - drunk drivers, bar fights and once in awhile you'd have a domestic. But now, you go and discipline people's children - because they can't.

"You have so many people that are divorced now that you have custody exchanges and those get really ugly ... Those are the two major changes I have seen in 40 years."
Hughes says he has a police family, and he always wanted to be an officer.

He struggled to get on the force at first, but eventually he was given a position.

"Obviously I am not the tallest person in stature, but he (the hiring officer) said, ‘The times you are going to use your height and your strength are going to be far outnumbered by the times you use your brain,' and I think that is true today even.

"You are ten times better off if you can talk your way out of something, rather than fight. Or you know, get shot at."

"I think everybody that does this job - it is the adrenaline," he says.

"You see a lot of strange things and you see a lot of things that are exciting. The times that you don't far outnumber the times that you do - but when it happens you have something to remember and talk about. Stories to tell at the kitchen table."

Summing up his career, he says, "I just think that it was a good ride.

"I saw a lot of things, did a lot of things, got to do a lot of things."

His plans for retirement include continuing on as the secretary/treasurer at the PAL (Police Athletic League) Club in Huntington and travel.

Hughes says he's trying to talk his wife into a trip to Vegas and he's looking forward to spending two weeks with her in Florida this winter.