When John Heflin entered the police reserve in 1994, he was an unemployed sawmill worker who read at a fifth-grade level, his son Jason said.
"He was being tutored on the side," Jason said. "We were barely making ends meet. He told my mom, ‘I've always had a dream of being a police officer.'"
Twelve years later, Heflin stood among his peers Wednesday, Feb. 22 to accept Payson Police Department's officer of the year award.
"A lot of people think officers just arrest people and put them in jail," Heflin said. "But that's not the case. We help people. I enjoy public service."
At night Heflin, a sergeant, works the graveyard shift, but guns are his real passion.
"I've always been interested in firearms and hunting," he said. "I get a lot of satisfaction out of training other officers and helping them stay safer."
After a promotion to sergeant in 2002, Heflin, a certified firearm instructor, went to work overhauling the department's firearms training program.
In four years, Heflin's turned it into a practical, dynamic curriculum, said Payson Police Chief Gordon Gartner.
"He has had a really huge role in training our officers in safe tactics," Gartner added. "He's made everything relevant to officer safety and how to avoid getting into a bad situation."
Heflin's career began in the passenger seat of a friend's patrol car after the Kaibab sawmill closed in the early-1990s.
"I used to ride with him Saturday night, "Heflin said. "I asked him, ‘Hey, this looks interesting, I'd like to do that.'"
In 1994, his wish came true. After the sawmill closed, Heflin entered the police academy, and served as a reserve officer.
"It was very hard for our family because we didn't have any income," Jason said. "He worked two or three jobs on the side."
Three years later Heflin's tenacity overcame hardship and he joined the force full time.
"He was an excellent patrol officer," said Police Commander Don Engler.
In less than a decade, Heflin moved up again, earning the rank of sergeant.
Methamphetamines, Heflin said, pose the greatest challenge to officers on the street.
"(Meth) has a filtering down effect," he added. "When people are on meth, they tend to commit a lot of other crimes. If we can solve that problem, we can solve a lot of our other problems."
Off duty, Heflin spends time with his wife, Janet, his two grown children, Jason and Stephanie, and four grandchildren.
"I only wish I could aspire to be as good a man as he is," Jason said. "He loves life, he loves to give and he's the most selfless man I know."
Rob Beery of the Payson Fire Department and dispatcher Irma Bramlet -- profiles forthcoming in subsequent issues -- also garnered best public servant awards.