Helping others makes for a better community.
That’s a lesson Omaha Police Officer John Martinez said he learned growing up in a family dedicated to community service and law enforcement.
“Something my dad always told me and my siblings as kids — and my wife agrees with it now — idle time for children isn’t necessarily good time,” he said.
Translation: Do something productive.
The 54-year-old — father of four daughters and one son — still takes that advice to heart. He and his wife, Michelle, have been active members of various committees at Holy Ghost Catholic Church. He currently works as the Police Department’s school resource officer at Millard North High School.
His parents were active at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church in South Omaha, where he attended church as a child. As an adult, Martinez has been active in Holy Ghost’s youth athletic programs, men’s club, Lenten fish fry and summer festival committees, and is currently a church trustee.
From 1997 to 2007 he served as the church’s athletic director. Martinez was an athlete in his youth and said he enjoyed working with more than 200 kids involved in the program, which includes volleyball, softball, baseball and basketball.
“The program gives the kids a chance to play and a place to play and to learn the values that come with sports — discipline and hard work and teamwork and things of that nature that benefit them down the road in their life,” he said. “Using those things applies to school. It applies to a career, working with other people, respecting other people, being on time to practice, being on time to your games. That’s part of your discipline.”
Helping others is a lesson he learned at a young age as his parents encouraged his activities in the church and youth sports. But there was one event that had an everlasting impact.
When he was young, two church members and family friends — a young father and mother — were killed in a traffic accident. They left behind two children.
Parishioners, including his parents, and other South Omaha community members held a daylong festival and other fundraisers to collect money for endowments for the children.
The children went to live elsewhere, with their grandparents, and Martinez never saw them again. But the memories of his parents’ efforts have stayed with him.
“When you get in the habit of being a good community servant or helping people, it becomes second nature, you just don’t think about it. You just react,” he said.
Just as with serving his church and community, law enforcement runs in Martinez’s blood. His father, uncle and two brothers are retired officers. Four cousins are on the force.
Martinez graduated from the University of Nebraska at Omaha with a degree in general studies and specialties in business and criminal justice. Twenty-four years ago, while working for Norwest Bank, he decided to give law enforcement a try.
“When you look up to your father, you want to follow in his footsteps,” he said. “I think he was probably proud (of my decision), but I don’t think it surprised him. It’s kind of in your blood. You grow up, your dad’s a police officer, your uncle’s a police officer, and at that point, my brothers were both on the job. It felt like the right thing to do.”
Martinez has been Millard North’s officer for at least a decade. Principal Brian Begley praised the officer’s impact, adding that outside of his regular duties he takes the time to visit classrooms. Martinez will talk in government and civics classes about search and seizure rights in the Fourth Amendment.
Begley said the relationship between law enforcement and schools changed after the Columbine and Sandy Hook shootings.
“The sight of a black-and-white cruiser on a school campus used to have a negative connotation,” he said. “Now I think more parents realize that the sight of a police cruiser on our campus is one of reassurance and positivity.”
It’s not uncommon for kids to bring their problems — anything from girlfriend and boyfriend worries to problems at home — to Martinez. He’s used to giving advice, not only as a father, but also as an officer.
“A lot of it is similar talks that I had with my own kids,” he said. “For example, some kids will complain about their curfews. My kids had a curfew. They had to be in at a certain time because there isn’t anything good outside for a 16-, 17-, 18-year-old after 11 o’clock at night. It’s too easy to get into trouble.
“I try to break it down for the kids and try to help them see there are reasons why parents give them a curfew. And I try to wrap it up with ‘You’re going to be a parent someday’ and ‘You have to trust that your parents are looking out for your own good.’ ”
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