A Jacksonville police officer recently won a brand-new Hyundai SUV after being chosen in the Hyundai’s Hometown Hero First Responder contest.
Officer Thomas Harper with the Jacksonville Beach Police Department said he was just grateful to be nominated alongside the 174 other first responder nominees.
“It’s amazing. It’s a gorgeous car. I’m still shocked. I really like it a lot,” Harper said after being handed the keys to the 2022 Hyundai Tucson at Jenkins Hyundai dealership in Jacksonville.
Colleagues say Harper has changed countless lives since joining the department.
“I love being a public servant. I love helping people. I truly think it’s something that I’m passionate about. When I go home at night, I know that I’ve potentially made a difference in someone’s life,” Harper said. “I’m very proud of my job, and there’s nothing else I can see myself doing.”
The officer received 400 votes for his bravery and commitment to serving the community.
Fellow Officer Rebecca Harris initially nominated Harper for his heroic actions on duty and his continual effort to grow as a police officer. She currently volunteers with the department.
“I first met Thomas when he was injured in 2019 while assisting with an ocean rescue as a law enforcement officer for Jacksonville Beach Police Department,” Harris told News4Jax. “I met him three more times within that same year for different injuries he sustained while protecting his community. Thomas never hesitates to go directly toward the threat. He has continued his training in hostage negotiations and is consistently striving to improve himself in his career.”
According to Harris, Thomas received a Meritorious Service Award in 2021 for saving a civilian’s life by applying a tourniquet.
“Thomas became a law enforcement officer to help people, and I see him do it every day. I believed so much in this officer and the department that he works for that I became president of their civilian volunteer group to offer support to these men and women,” Harris said.
“While I feel each of them deserves to win, Thomas has shown over and over that he is truly committed to giving his life to keep his community safe. He always has a smile on his face and treats everyone he encounters with the same respect he expects to receive. Thomas is one of the good ones, and for that, I think he deserves to win.”
Harper said that his co-workers are happy about his success.
“Very excited for me. They’ve been having some fun with it, too. I’ll walk into the station, and they’ll say, ‘Oh, the Hometown Hero is here.’ Stuff like that, so they have fun with it. Everyone’s been very supportive.”
As for the car, it couldn’t be a better reward.
“The color is perfect. Something I would’ve picked myself. A bunch of technology and wireless charging that I didn’t know even existed,” he said.
Harper said he plans to take the car on mountain bike outings and bring it to the police station.
“I do plan on taking it to the station and showing some people.”
The officer said he is also getting recognition in the community.
“I’m amazed by the support of everyone. I’ve had a couple of people I didn’t know just come up to me off the street and say congratulations. It’s been very nice to know that there are people out there that support us and appreciate us,” he said.
Harper spends his days off volunteering with the Big Brothers, Big Sisters of America program to “create and support one-to-one mentoring relationships that ignite the power and promise of youth.”
Harper began his career in law enforcement with the Leon County Sheriff’s Office in 2015 before moving to Jacksonville.