Policing made personal
By Noah Riffe

At H. W. Wilkey Elementary School, Grayson County Sheriff Norman Chaffins looks into a classroom for his grandson. He says his favorite part of the job is spending time each week with students at the school.

As Grayson County Sheriff Norman Chaffins walks through the halls of the school he attended as a child, he gets high fives and hugs. He visits H.W. Wilkey Elementary School twice a week to teach anti-addiction and drug awareness to fifth-graders.

Norman believes he can make a positive impact on young people, gaining their trust so if someday they need help, they will reach out. “We have more resources available today than we did 20 years ago for people who were addicted to different drugs," he says. "We now have more avenues to get them help.”

The importance of that kind of help hits close to home. Norman's father struggled with addiction, often having run-ins with police and his mother. When Norman began his law enforcement career, he went straight to see his father. “I said, Dad, we got to talk, and he said, 'I know what you're gonna tell me,'” Norman says. “He stuck his finger in my face and said, 'Norman, you do your job.'”

“My dad never took another drink after that day," he says, "because he knew that I would have done my job.”

Norman's personal policing approach is community-based. As he steps into his office one morning, his phone is ringing. He learns that a 60-year-old woman in Grayson County has no electricity at home, and a local non-profit organization is out of funds and unable to help pay her bill.

The sheriff finds the money through a program called "Behind the Badge," and the power is restored. “This is the type of work that I like doing,” says Norman. “It aggravates me that people that have platforms where they can influence and impact others don't use that platform to do that.”

But the job has its darker side as well, and one incident weighs on Norman's mind, years since it happened.

On Dec. 9, 2015, while responding to a domestic violence call, Norman shot and killed 66-year-old Chris Hidgon.

“I dream about it," he says. "I have nightmares about it. I think about his family. I think about his sisters, I think about his daughter, his wife – his wife was there.”

Norman raced down the road to the disturbance with Chief Deputy Corey Knochel in front. “All of a sudden Corey goes, 'Norman, he's at the end of the driveway. He's got a gun,'” says Norman. “I looked to my left, and he was standing about 150, 200 feet away from me.” Chris approached Norman with his gun drawn, and Norman fired off three rounds, striking and killing Chris with the third.

Norman was cleared of all charges by a grand jury but the shooting left a permanent mark. “I always thought that if I had to shoot and kill someone, as long as I was justified, I would be OK. I’d just drive on and everything's fine. Then when it actually happened, I realized it wasn't that easy."

Norman refuses to wear the medal of valor he received for his actions that night. To him, it's like celebrating a death. “I say I'm a Christian, but I don't bow my head when I pray.” says Norman. “I know God forgives everybody, but I killed a guy.”

The sheriff clearly carries the guilt of having taken a life in the performance of his duties, but he also carries the pride of helping school children avoid drugs and addiction, and downtrodden constituents restore their power. And perhaps he still hears his father's admonition: "Norman, do your job."

Students at H. W. Wilkey Elementary School show off their handmade bookmarks to Norman, who has been teaching an anti-drug class in local schools for 27 years. “There’s been times where I’ve come up on wrecks, and I had them in fifth grade,” he says. “I don’t remember the name, but I know their face and it breaks my heart more than anything.”

Axel Plush, 7, gets a surprise visit from his Grandpa Norman at H. W. Wilkey Elementary School.

Norman speaks with Kentucky State Troopers Joey Beasley, left, and Robert Hartley after the end of an event to promote the use of seatbelts. Joey and Norman worked together when he was a state trooper, and Joey’s wife now works in the sheriff’s office. Norman started his career as a Kentucky State Trooper.

As he works a problem with a constituent’s unpaid power bill, Norman speaks on the phone with the electric company. Through a program called Behind the Badge, he was able to get the power restored.

Plans for a new office come together as Norman (right) speaks to Lt. Sonny Poteet (left, on the phone) and IT staff member Lee Hollowell. The sheriff’s office will be moving to the old police department building after the completion of an addition. Planning and paperwork can be a large part of Norman’s work day when he is not out in the community.

Norman reacts with frustration while arranging to pay the bill for an elderly constituent when a local not profit ran out of funds. “God has given me a platform to influence people and to impact people in a good way,” says Norman.

Norman speaks with Rick and Becky Mintora at Farmers Feed Mill.

Norman (seated) jokes with his wife Lauren Critchelow Chaffins and son Greyson, 15, on a morning before school.

Norman stands for the national anthem during a game between the Grayson County Cougars and Owensboro High School. Norman’s son Greyson plays defensive back and wide receiver for the school.