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Hilliard Police’s Sgt. Higgins retires April 9

A series of photos of Officer Higgins, from when he first started, to mid career, and his final portrait.

John Higgins isn’t sure if serving as a AAA School Safety Officer at Harrisburg Elementary School in 1975 inspired him to become a police officer or was simply the first step taken in a lengthy, formulated career.

But the Hilliard Division of Police sergeant knows it was the first badge he wore. And now, more than 40 years later, he will pin one on for the final time.

“I knew I wanted to be a police officer from a young age,” said Higgins, who retires April 9 with 33 years of service. He joined HPD in 1988 after serving for a year as a part-time officer in his hometown of Harrisburg.

A multi-generational veteran, Higgins served in the U.S. Army from 1983 to 1986 after graduating from Grove City High School. He attended Columbus State Community College’s first police academy and also earned an associate degree in criminal justice.

The 23-year-old rookie was humbled his very first night on patrol when his first action was accidently bashing the steering wheel into the cruiser’s radar.

Over the next several years he trained about 10 new police officers and responded to thousands of calls. A few stand out — like the time he climbed a house in a raging storm to perform CPR on a man who had been struck by lightning — and countless other traumatic calls he rarely shared with his wife and three young daughters.

“I’ve gotten to see things and do things most people wouldn’t believe – good and bad,” he said. “Our job is to be of service to citizenry. If we take a loss, it’s not the time to step down — it’s time to step up. “

He earned a reputation as a familiar face dropping off donations to the Hilliard Food Pantry, and as someone who volunteered to work holidays and carried $20 in his pocket in case someone needed a bite to eat or some cab fare.

Whenever he stopped to help a driver change a tire or jump a dead battery, he ensured the driver pulled back onto the road with the knowledge of how to fix it themselves in the future.

“That’s part of helping people,” said Higgins. “Our duty to them is not only help them out of the bad situation they’re in but prepare them to be a player in their own rescue.”

Following in the steps of his mentor, (retired) Lt. Bob Parkey, Higgins focused his career on patrol duties and prided himself as the voice of calm on the radio when calls became chaotic. He was promoted to patrol sergeant in 2006.

“Uniformed patrol is where it’s at — you fly by the seat of your pants,” he said. “But I tried to lead by example not only with my message, but the inflection.”

Known for his formal appearance, patriotism, Disney obsession and “Dad jokes,” Higgins believes there are a few keys to success in being a good patrol officer: being visible, being well-rounded and remembering there’s no wrong time to do the right thing.

Being a leader means being a mentor, and never asking someone to do anything you haven’t done yourself, he said.

“You might have to order them to do something they may not come back from, and I don’t take that lightly,” Higgins added.

Other accolades include serving as a founding member of the HPD’s Honor Guard, a member of the Traffic Crash Investigation team, a longtime advisor of the Explorer’s Post, and the informal Division historian.

Lt. Doug Lightfoot, who worked with Higgins in various roles over the past two decades, described him as a supervisor who aimed to help other officers succeed not only in their professions but their lives.

“Even as our roles converged, and ultimately reversed with my promotion to lieutenant, I still continued to learn from him and have relied heavily on his wisdom and experience,” Lightfoot said. “It is with a mix of admiration and sadness that I see him move on to this next chapter of his life.  John’s wit, wisdom, and bad ‘Dad jokes’ will be sorely missed — well, maybe not the jokes!”

In retirement, Higgins plans to spend more time with his wife, Beth — who he looks forward to making all of the decisions — and their grown daughters: Molly, Jenna and Rachel. He credits his relationship with God for helping him through his career.

Higgins hopes his legacy will be his work product itself and the others he has mentored taking the helm.

“I would be very proud to have taught others,” he said. I want them to be good cops, to go through their entire careers and have something to look forward to after.”

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