For Columbia Patrol Officer Dan Wright, every day on the job is different. He meets new people and encounters unique situations regularly.
The variety is his favorite part of the job.
He deals with parking issues and accidents as well as violent assaults and homicides. And sometimes, there are odd incidents — like the young buck that caught its antlers in a soccer net.
It was just a few nights ago, and it happened on the Fairview Elementary School soccer field. Wright and other officers cut it loose from the netting and called the conservation department. The buck wasn’t injured.
It’s the kind of thing that happens in a long career like Wright’s. He’s in his 20th year as a full-time officer in the Columbia Police Department. In December, the Columbia Police Foundation presented him with the Molly Thomas Bowden Officer of the Year Award.
The award was presented at the annual employee recognition ceremony, which normally would have been held in April 2020 but, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, was delayed until December.
Bowden was the first Columbia officer to be killed in the line of duty. She was fatally wounded during a routine traffic stop in January 2005 and died a month later.
Wright worked with Bowden as a patrol officer. He said to receive an award in Bowden’s name made the honor even more special.
Born and raised in Columbia, Wright earned his bachelor’s degree in parks and recreation from MU. Coming from a background in sports, he wanted to work in the sports programming department in Columbia Parks & Recreation but said those positions never opened up.
In his mid-20s, he attended the police academy in Kansas City and began his law enforcement career there. He returned to Columbia in 1999, where he worked as a reserve officer for the Columbia Police Department.
Reserve officers were commissioned officers who worked as volunteer patrol officers. During that time, Wright also held a full-time job as a corrections officer at the Boone County Jail.
Police Chief Geoff Jones took Wright under his wing and showed him the ropes. “I have always been very appreciative and told him so,” Wright said.
In 2001, Wright began working as a full-time patrol officer. He responded to dispatch calls and tried to be proactive in the area he was assigned.
On Monday, Wright began working in the Community Outreach Unit. In this role, he works in downtown Columbia to help businesses and residents.
“Community policing, in my mind anyways, is helping the community and the police be proactive with each other and helping each other solve problems,” Wright said.
Jones said the department is called to help with many things, including conducting death investigations. He told the story of one investigation where a family needed particular support after an unexpected death. Wright sent an internal email to the department saying that the family was going through a really difficult time. He asked that if the family called the department for someone to call him or do whatever possible to support them.
That stood out to Chief Jones.
“If I get every person in the police department thinking that way, this is the easiest police chief gig on the planet,” he said.
For Wright, that situation and others, are a matter of “doing the right thing.” Sometimes people need more time with the police, he said.
“People expect the police to take control of the situation right away and keep people safe and get things done and managed and solved,” Wright said. “But oftentimes, people just need to be heard.”
Wright tries to put himself in the position of the people who call for help. He does his best to think through how he would want police to act if he were in their shoes.
Jones emphasized Wright’s care and dedication to his work. He described Wright as funny, kind and thoughtful.
“Sometimes it becomes easy to just go from call to call and take the report and make some minimal effort to solve whatever problem you’re in,” he said. “Dan has never been a person like that.”
He described Wright’s integrity in his work as “unmatched.”
When not working with the department, Wright has helped with lunchtime security at district high schools. Serving in this off-duty capacity has given him the chance to build great relationships with principals, teachers and students, he said.
Wright is married and has two children, one attending college in town and another in high school. In his free time, he enjoys sports, particularly softball. He also does some woodworking.
Although he could retire at the end of his 20th year, Wright said he plans to stick around for a while.
“I always said if the police department would hire me, I would definitely give them 20 years of my life, and I have done that,” Wright said. “And I’m happy to do so.”