For the first time since the City of Fort Worth tried to strip a terminally ill police officer of her gun and badge, Police Chief Jeffrey Halstead spoke publically about the situation on Tuesday.
After working for the police department nearly 25 years, D.D. Willingham received a letter last week telling her she was out of leave time and would not reach full retirement.
However, people across North Texas and across the country heard that message loud and clear and stepped in to help.
Chief Halstead retrieved Officer Willingham's gun from the city and personally returned it to her last week. He says he's working to make sure a situation like this doesn't happen again.
"Turning in a gun and badge is what I equate to termination," said Halstead. "It has an extremely negative context."
That's why Halstead says he understood the backlash when word got out that the City of Fort Worth ordered Officer Willingham to relinquish her equipment while she's battling terminal lung cancer.
"I know that hurt every police officer," said Halstead. "Not in just Fort Worth. I received emails from Missouri, Idaho, New York and Florida."
Months away from marking 25 years of service, Officer Willingham is just shy of making a full retirement and receiving her full benefits.
Instead of taking a reduced pension, Willingham borrowed $32,000 to purchase her retirement. When her friends heard what happened, they jumped into action, holding multiple fundraisers to help Willingham pay off the loan.
They held a bake sale, gun raffle, bowl-a-thon and started an online donation site.
In a short time, they exceeded the goal.
"My whole family and I thank everybody out there – national, local police department, companies, everybody for helping my mother out during this difficult time," said Willingham's daughter, Kendra.
Chief Halstead says he has heard many stories about how Officer Willingham helped others during her police career.
"Heartfelt compassion, strong woman of faith, but a dedicated member of the police family," said Halstead.
The chief says Officer Willingham is not the only officer whose health is impacting her career. He says each situation is different and deserves more than a standard human resources response.
"Every city leader is working with me to remedy that," said Halstead. "I don't think that'll happen again."
KDFW FOX 4
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