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American Legion Names Culpeper Police Sergeant State’s Top Cop

August 24, 2015 | Virginia News

News Image By Wally Bunker | Culpeper Times

Every time Culpeper Police Chief Chris Jenkins talks about Sgt. Norma McGuckin a broad smile creeps across his face. The smile broadened Tuesday as he spoke about her.

“She is a perfect example of someone coming to this country, pursuing the American dream and contributing to the community,” said Jenkins. “She is a role model to the Hispanic community and a major role model within the agency.”

Tuesday, McGuckin, was named the Virginia American Legion’s Virginia Police Officer of the Year.

“I wasn’t even expecting it local, let alone at the state level,” said McGuckin.

However, her journey for that honor took an unusual path.

Norma’s story
As a 16-year-old McGuckin and her father headed north from their rural Mexican town. Her father Jesus was deep in debt. He was seeking employment so that he could earn enough money to pay off his debts and come back home to the family farm. The family lived in a three-room farmhouse without electricity or running water. Jesus cobbled together $1,000 to pay smugglers for documents and transportation for himself and his eldest daughter.

McGuckin offered to help earn money and provide a better life for her mother, four sisters and one brother left behind. McGuckin, now 40, sat in the backseat of a car with her father. Two strangers sat up front.

“I had never seen them before or seen them again,” said McGuckin about the driver and passenger. McGuckin quietly watched the nearing border crossing on the two-lane highway from Tijuana, Mexico into California. She nervously watched the uniformed officers stop cars and check papers.

“They were checking all the cars,” said McGuckin. McGuckin and her father clutched fake documents in their sweating hands. The border patrol agents looked over their papers and waved the quartet through the checkpoint and into the country, without asking any questions.

McGuckin’s life changed forever as did her plans. She and her father, who worked in a textile plant, stayed with relatives in Los Angeles where she attended high school, later attaining her GED.

She witnessed police conducting raids in her Los Angeles neighborhood. She wondered when they would come to deport her.

Just three years after arriving in California, she moved to Virginia and in 2000 married James, whom she met while working in a print shop. They have three grown sons.

McGuckin began working at Wal-Mart in the electronics department. During her employment she met off duty Culpeper police officers who worked off duty security. She served as a translator for Hispanics suspected of shoplifting.

“That’s when I first met Chris (Settle), Andrew (Terrill), Richard (Brooking), Ricky (Pinksaw) and Holly (Hill),” said McGuckin. They suggested that she volunteer as the police department’s translator.

Seeking to help out, she went for an application as a volunteer translator. “That’s when I found out there was a position open,” she said.

Instead, the department gave her two applications, one for police officer and one as a civilian community service officer assigned to write parking tickets.

Always fearing deportation, she cautiously applied for a work permit and “green card.” Not being a U.S. citizen ruled out, at least temporarily, becoming a police officer.

However, just before leaving office, President Bill Clinton granted amnesty to illegal aliens in the U.S. McGuckin had school records and pay stubs to prove residency, making her path to citizenship easier.

Becoming a citizen
From 2001 to 2006 McGuckin studied to become a naturalized citizen. In 2006 in Lynchburg, she was sworn in as a U.S. citizen while her sister and husband looked on. All of her siblings have become naturalized citizens.

In the fall of 2006, she attended the Shenandoah Criminal Justice Training Academy in Weyers Cave to become a police officer. Upon graduation, she was assigned to uniform patrol. McGuckin picked up right where she left off – translating and enforcing laws.

“Not forgetting her native roots or personal background, she has instrumental in assisting town, county and state investigations dealing with Hispanic speaking victims and/or suspects, providing translation and a sense of understanding of the Hispanic population in Culpeper,” Jenkins wrote in his nomination letter to the state American Legion Post Law and Order Committee in Richmond. “In doing so, she became a leader in the Hispanic community. She has become a daily source of knowledge, wisdom and advice to all, with an emphasis on the Hispanic population.”

McGuckin remembers her fear of police and possible deportation when she talks to Hispanic crime victims, urging them to report a crime so a criminal does not go free and prey on someone else.

“I understand why they are scared to contact police because you are telling (police) where you are,” said McGuckin. She said many frightened victims open up when she tells her story about coming to this country.

Jenkins notes that sometimes Hispanics come to police headquarters and knowing only two words of English, “Norma working?”

McGuckin said her cell phone rings constantly, many times displaying unfamiliar numbers or a text message in Spanish. “I get people calling from Fredericksburg,” she said.

Before being promoted to sergeant in 2013, McGuckin worked in the Street Crimes Unit, primarily tasked with drug enforcement.

“She was largely responsible for making several cases and making arrests on those cases when our community was going through a PCP epidemic,” Jenkins wrote. Mass arrests of suspects by DEA and the FBI resulted from her investigation.

McGuckin also mentors other officers and participates in the department’s wellness and physical fitness program, in addition to her duties as a patrol supervisor and departmental translator.

She was recognized earlier this year by American Legion Post 330 as Culpeper’s Law Enforcement Officer of the Year and previously as the Town of Culpeper Employee of the Year in 2003.

“Culpeper and this country could use many more folks like Norma McGuckin,” said Jenkins.

Wally Bunker is a freelance contributor with the Culpeper Times. You may reach him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

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