Written by Jennifer Webb
J L Tillett had no intentions of ever being a police officer, but sometimes our own plans for our life are not what God plans. Everything had been going smoothly up until 2012. That’s when everything seemed to hit a wall and his own plans crumbled to dust.
His parents had moved here from California when he was 6, settling outside of town in Center Hill. They had a chicken farm there before moving into town and later establishing Tillett’s Paint and Wallpaper. He met his wife when they were still in high school. Michelle was playing piano in the choir room. He walked in, complimented her playing and she followed him out the door. They’ve been together ever since. He graduated first, but they still continued to see each other and got married her senior year.
J L worked for Walmart Distribution for several years before starting work at his parent’s business around 2000. He was blessed to work with them until they made the decision to retire in 2011 and closed the store. He started up his own business but had to close the doors after a year since it was not providing adequately for his family. He and Michelle had 4 lovely daughters to take care of - Erin, Ashley, Avery, and Emily. That’s when he realized that his plans had crumbled to dust.
But God provides. In this case, it came from a fellow church member telling him that there was an open position for the City of Searcy - in the Animal Control department. He applied in early 2013 and got the job.
After an exciting year in animal control and working closely with Searcy police officers, he switched to dispatch. He answered 911 calls and emergency services dispatch. It gave him a whole new perspective of what the officers deal with on a day-to-day basis. The job was not always fun, many times intense, but the people he worked with made it a great experience.
The more he worked with the Searcy Police Department, the more he wanted to be a bigger part of it. He made friends and they encouraged him to become an officer. One day in 2015, Chief Eric Webb asked him if he still wanted to be an officer. J L said “Yes.” Chief Webb said that he’d make it happen. J L went to the police academy in Camden, AR and he’s been an officer ever since.
He was promoted to Corporal in 2021 under Chief Steve Hernandez and was recently named Officer of the Year. As a patrol officer, he serves in the patrol division under Sgt. Higgins and Lt. Wells. They have multiple shifts that rotate in 8-week sequences of days and nights. He loves it because no two days are ever exactly the same. The shifts are divided up into squads which are labeled as A squad, B squad, C squad, etc. His shift is A squad, so when they started calling themselves the A-Team, it stuck!
He loves the camaraderie within the A-Team. They've created t-shirts and other items for the “A-Team” and their families. They get along well as a squad, eating together and enjoying each other's company on and off duty, and they are constantly backing each other up. Even at a "routine" traffic stop, you will sometimes see multiple officers there because they want to make sure that each officer is safe.
"Not everything stays routine. We all want to go home to our families at the end of the day… just like anyone else.” - Cpl. J L Tillett
There are a lot of things about the job he says you’re not going to find anywhere else.
“Not just a job well done but it’s a job that you know affects somebody else’s life.” - Cpl. J L Tillett
It may be separating a couple that has been fighting. It might be talking to a teen having issues with their parents and getting them to hear something that makes sense to them. Sometimes it’s helping young kids if there’s an accident. Officers frequently still do the job of animal control, especially when the Animal Control Officer is unavailable or off duty. For example, if there’s a dog in a vehicle involved in an accident and the owners have to go to the hospital, they make sure the dog is safe and taken care of.
For J L it’s about the opportunity to make an impact on others’ lives through his work. He’s helping the people that are in some sort of crisis and he has the opportunity to intervene and be a positive influence for change. He gets great satisfaction in knowing that he’s really helped someone in their life in a way that matters.
When he’s not in uniform, you can find him and his wife Michelle on the Tillett Family Homestead or hitting the road and exploring Arkansas parks and campgrounds. They love camping - so much that he custom-built his own small camper and has plans to start another one soon. You can see their adventures and the custom-built camper on the Tillett Family Homestead Facebook Page.
Letting go of Tillett’s Paint and Wallpaper and of his own business was hard. Cpl. J L Tillett’s story is just one more beautiful example of how when God closes one door in our lives, he opens another one - often one that we never would have walked through otherwise.