Don't believe Payson Police Sergeant Rod Mamero for a second when he offers his initial response to the question, "Why did you choose law enforcement as your career?"
"I just didn't want to pick out what I was going to wear to work every day," Mamero quips.
Quipping and making the most of his bone-dry comic delivery are perhaps this guy's second- and third-best talents. But he actually gets paid for his first-best talent.
While we're on that subject, here's Mamero's serious answer to the career-choice query:
"When my family originally moved to Chandler in 1968, the population was about 12,000 people not unlike it is here," said Mamero, who was born in Bellville, Ill., 37 years ago. "I enjoyed that small-town atmosphere and camaraderie ... So when I decided to go into policing, I knew I wanted to do it in a small community like that, where the police officers do make a difference, where you know all their names, where they get a lot of respect, and where they're there for the right reason: to help people.
"My dad was a police officer in the military, and there's a history of law enforcement in my family. So I think it was predestined internally before I ever actually thought about doing it."
Mamero's move to Chandler was preceded by four years in Germany, where his father had been stationed. When his dad was sent to Vietnam, the rest of the Mamero family moved back to the states and, more specifically, the desert Southwest, where Mamero spent the remainder of his formative years.
"My mom raised me and took care of me, and I was quite the handful," Mamero said. "I never got into serious trouble; just hi-jinks and pranks kind of trouble. When I was six and seven years old, I loved to build model cars and planes and wreck them or blow them up with firecrackers. Some little old guy at Revell gave his all molding those little pieces of plastic so I could chuck them against the side of a building somewhere."
Fortunately, Mamero had grown out of that destructive phase of his life by the time he was ready to pursue his career, which he began in 1985 as a reserve officer with the Mesa Police Department. Two years later, he tested with, and was promptly hired by the Gila County Sheriff's Department in Payson. In 1989, he was presented with the opportunity to work for the Payson Police Department.
"I jumped on it and I've been there ever since," Mamero said.
"I've been afforded a lot of opportunities in Payson that a person may not get in a larger agency. I'm a D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education) officer for elementary and junior high grades; I've been a field training officer; for about nine years I was on the Special Response Team, which is the equivalent of a S.W.A.T. team; I wrote the initial grant for the canine program here, and Chief (Gordon) Gartner was so receptive to it, we got our first canine unit; and now I'm a patrol sergeant with eight positions assigned to me."
The greatest satisfaction Mamero takes home every night, however, has nothing to do with individual achievements.
"Every day," he said, "I know that I am making a difference, that I'm the last line of defense for a lot of people.
"I remember one night, an elderly lady called 911, because she thought someone was breaking into her house. I got there and found out that the noise she was hearing was just wind blowing the trees up against her house. This lady had no immediate family, no pets, her kids had long since moved away, so it made me feel really good to know that, no matter what, she could call 911 and someone would be there for her. And that's what I do."
But the job that gives so much also takes so much, Mamero adds.
"I was there when Chief (David) Wilson was shot and killed in 1992. I was there when (Payson police officer) Allen Dyer was gunned down in front of the old Wal-Mart two years ago. Those kinds of things obviously take away from the benefits of the job along with homicides, the suicides, the runaways and never knowing when that one traffic stop for something like a burned-out taillight is going to go south on you. There have been several times when I got home at night and just went, 'Whew! It's good to be home tonight!'
"But by the same token," Mamero said, "when that stuff starts to bother you, you just make yourself remember that you're here to help, that for a lot of people you're their last source of hope."
Although not everyone seems to be aware of it, that hope is available at all hours of the day, night and week.
"Five or six years ago," Mamero said, "a lady called 911 for something, and she said, 'Oh, I'm sorry, I forgot that it's the weekend. I'll call back Monday.' She was evidently under the impression that we aren't here 24 hours a day, 7 days a week."
When Mamero finally retires from law enforcement in the far-distant future, he is asked, how would he like to hear his career summarized?
"That I did this job for the right reason to help people," he said. "A lot of the peripherals of law enforcement of crime and punishment, of justice and a lack of it, of overtime, of hiring issues and budget concerns can tear at the fabric of what you're actually trying to do as you move through your career path.
"But ultimately, I've been in this job to help people and to make a difference. And I can honestly say I have. I know I have."